Saturday, October 16, 2010


Notice [Anthony McCarthy]

Yesterday's posts are so important and the one about rape is related to the topic I'd planned on posting on this morning. I'll hold that post till a later date because the aspects of it Echidne discusses are extremely important and need to be discussed more.

The post from Suzie about people losing their homes is also too important to let it go. Please read them and comment on them. Any of us could be facing those problems at any time, we need more practical ideas for dealing with them.

I will post something later today or tomorrow.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mortgage crisis hits close to home (by Suzie)

Unlike Echidne, I'm not an economist. I have no great insight into what Paul Krugman called the mortgage mess in a column yesterday. But I hope you won't mind me telling my own story.

My sister owes at least $5,000 on a small home assessed at $90,000, a little less than what she paid for it five years ago. She has about $30,000 in equity. A few days before Bank of America declared a moratorium on foreclosures, it sent her a letter, threatening to foreclose on Election Day if she didn't pay her debt and double her house payments for the next six months. We're in limbo. I have done some research but haven't had the energy to do more.

Working with BoA has been a nightmare. I have power of attorney, and every time I called, I got someone different in a call center, often with different answers. For instance, one told me to total up my sister's medical debt. When I called back, another person told me that she had too much debt for BoA to work with her.

I wrote about this on 1/29/10, and some readers scolded me for not being more understanding of debt collectors. At least they have jobs. My sister got fired for petty reasons in May, and I can't help but think it had to do with her age and declining health. She worked in a hospital and had insurance, by the way.

Earlier, I reached a local BoA manager who told me that the staff was working on a solution, I didn't need to keep calling, and I should stop worrying about foreclosure. They would notify me before the case got that far, she said. They didn't, of course.

Right now, my sister's planning to move into an old trailer in the country with her son and his family. Her other son lives with her and works in a factory. On his wages, it will be hard to afford rent. I better remind them to vote while they still have a permanent address.

Nonsexy, but still fun, Halloween costumes (by Suzie)

Before Halloween last year, I decried the pressure on women to dress as a sexy something. (10/30/09) The women at the fabulous new site, Take Back Halloween!, feel the same way, and unlike me, they actually did something about it. They explain:
We’re a resource guide: we come up with the costume ideas, explain what you’ll need to pull off the look, and provide links to where you can buy the various components.
I should be able to come up with something because I'm now the proud proprietor of a small church thrift store.

It would be easy to dress as Mary Wollstonecraft, who published her "Vindication on the Rights of Woman" in 1792. The artwork above shows a neckline that has been back in style, and a ribbon could complete the look, at least on top. If you have a daughter, she could go as Mary Shelley, perhaps with a mini Frankenstein's monster.

Another interesting figure would be Louise Michel, a k a the Red Virgin. With a pea coat and an old nightgown, you could dress as her marching to Versailles after the fall of the 1871 Paris Commune.

I need to stop before I spend all day hunting up costumes on the Internet, but I'd like to hear your suggestions.

ETA: Thanks to Anna for this great link to Violet Socks as well as one explaining how to dress as Joan of Arc.

Friday flower blogging (by Suzie)

No Means Yes. Yes Means Anal.

AA sent me a link to this new fraternity pledge chant at the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity of Yale University:

Around 9:30 pm, students were seen chanting, among other things, "No means yes, yes means anal."

The students, some of whom were blindfolded and being led in a line with their hands on each others' shoulders, were also heard chanting "My name is Jack, I'm a necrophiliac, I f--- dead women."

It's just a joke, naturally. Very funny if you like jokes about rape. Especially the bit where you get raped whatever your answer.

What makes it even funnier is that the objectives of DKE are:

The Cultivation of General Literature and Social Culture, the Advancement and Encouragement of Intellectual Excellence, the Promotion of Honorable Friendship and Useful Citizenship, the Development of a Spirit of Tolerance and Respect for the Rights and Views of Others, the Maintenance of Gentlemanly Dignity, Self-Respect, and Morality in All Circumstances, and the Union of Stout Hearts and Kindred Interests to Secure to Merit its Due Reward
Bolds are mine. They certainly wouldn't be by DKE.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

I have wanted to write about a study which found Americans uninformed about the actual levels of wealth inequality in this country for some time, but other things intervened. Hence this post is a little late.

Here is one write-up of the study:

Americans generally underestimate the degree of income inequality in the United States, and if given a choice, would distribute wealth in a similar way to the social democracies of Scandinavia, a new study finds.

For decades, polls have shown that a plurality of Americans -- around 40 percent -- consider themselves conservative, while only around 20 percent self-identify as liberals. But a new study from two noted economists casts doubt on what values lie beneath those political labels.

According to research (PDF) carried out by Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University, and flagged by Paul Kedrosky at the Infectious Greed blog, 92 percent of Americans would choose to live in a society with far less income disparity than the US, choosing Sweden's model over that of the US.

What's more, the study's authors say that this applies to people of all income levels and all political leanings: The poor and the rich, Democrats and Republicans are all equally likely to choose the Swedish model.


Recent analyses have shown that income inequality in the US has grown steadily for the past three decades and reached its highest level on record, exceeding even the large disparities seen in the 1920s, before the Great Depression. Norton and Ariely estimate that the one percent wealthiest Americans hold nearly 50 percent of the country's wealth, while the richest 20 percent hold 84 percent of the wealth.

But in their study, the authors found Americans generally underestimate the income disparity. When asked to estimate, respondents on average estimated that the top 20 percent have 59 percent of the wealth (as opposed to the real number, 84 percent). And when asked to choose how much the top 20 percent should have, on average respondents said 32 percent -- a number similar to the wealth distribution seen in Sweden.

"What is most striking" about the results, argue the authors, is that they show "more consensus than disagreement among ... different demographic groups. All groups – even the wealthiest respondents – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than what they estimated the current United States level to be, while all groups also desired some inequality – even the poorest respondents."

And one graph from the study (p. 12, left-click to make larger):

The study also offers the information in this graph by by the respondents' income levels, by their voting habits and by gender (p. 13). It turns out that men prefer a slightly more unequal wealth distribution than women but the differences are slight. And nobody prefers as much wealth inequality as the US currently has!

This is all quite astonishing. What's probably most astonishing is that nobody much seems to have cared to remove the ignorance these findings suggest:

Americans' ignorance about wealth (and, probably, income) distribution is encouraging in the sense that it offers hope that most voters might opt for government policies more conducive to equality if only they knew how unequal things were. But it's dismaying in the sense that people who occupy a position of relative privilege seem to go out of their way to avoid acknowledging it. A recent example is M. Todd Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago whose annual household income exceeds $250,000, putting him comfortably ahead of 98 percent of his fellow Americans. Henderson was foolish enough to write a blog post venturing that even though he and his wife earn more than $250,000, his Hyde Park neighbor Barack Obama shouldn't raise his taxes because "we can't afford it" after paying the mortgage, the kids' private school tuition, the nanny, etc. You can imagine the response he got.
I would have thought all this would be an obvious weapon for the Democrats to use when defending the Health Care Reform, for example, or the minimum wage or umpteen other possible political acts. But no.

HIV And Pornography

An actor has tested positive for HIV:

An adult film performer tested positive for HIV on Saturday, causing several pornography companies to suspend production.

A health clinic based in Sherman Oaks, California, reported the positive test result.
I guess now the task is to find out if this actor has infected anyone else.

Some activists argue that the industry which rarely allows condoms to be used is at fault:

Darren James, the adult film actor at the center of the 2004 HIV scare criticized the industry for again failing to protect actors from being infected.

James tested negative days before being filmed. Later, a test came back positive, and James learned that he spread HIV to three actresses who he worked with.

"I knew it was going to happen," James told the Los Angeles Times. "And how many years has it been? Again. They went right back to the same habits."
And why is the industry so reluctant to have condoms used? Hmmm.

I also wonder how much anal sex increases the risk of infection. It's known to be more dangerous than vaginal sex:

Anal sex means sexual activity involving the bottom – in particular, the type of intercourse in which the penis goes into the anus. It is often referred to as ‘rectal sex'. Anal sex does carry some health risks, so please read our advice carefully.

Our impression is that anal sex has become rather more common in heterosexual couples, partly because they have watched ‘blue movies’ in which this activity so often occurs.

One small study carried out in 2009 suggested that 30 per cent of pornographic DVDs which are on sale in the UK feature rectal intercourse. Often, it is presented as something that is both routine and painless for women. In real life, this is not the case.


What about infection? Most sexual activities carry a risk of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from gonorrhoea and herpes to hepatitis B and HIV. There is evidence that anal intercourse carries a higher transmission risk than almost any other sexual activity. Information about these risks is given below.

Odd British School Uniforms

According to the U.K. Telegraph (sorta right-wing) three private Muslim girls' schools in Britain require that the students wear a face-covering veil on their way to and back from school:

Islamic schools have introduced uniform policies which force girls to wear the burka or a full headscarf and veil known as the niqab.


Madani, which has 260 pupils, charges fees of £1,900 a year. Its website states: "All payments should be made in cash. We do not accept cheques."

School uniform rules listed on the website have been deleted but an earlier version, seen by this newspaper, stated: "The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab."

The admission application form warns girls will be "appropriately punished" for failing to wear the correct uniform, and its website adds: "If parents are approached by the Education Department regarding their child's education, they should not disclose any information without discussing it with the committee."

Madani Girls' School, which is a listed as a private limited company and was removed from the Charity Commission's records at the end of last year, was visited by Ofsted in 2008 but the inspectorate's report makes no mention of the strict uniform code.

It rated the school's overall performance as "satisfactory" but noted that "the history curriculum is limited to Islamic history in Key Stage 3". A number of aspects of school life were praised, including pupil behaviour.

Explaining the school's ethos, Madani's website says: "If we oppose the lifestyle of the west then it does not seem sensible that the teachers and the system, which represents that lifestyle, should educate our children."

Jamea Al Kauthar is a £2,500-a-year girls' boarding school, which accommodates 400 pupils in the grounds of Lancaster's former Royal Albert Hospital.

It states on its website: "Black Jubbah [smock-like outer garment] and dopatta [shawl] is compulsory as well as purdah (veil) when leaving and returning to Jamea. Scarves are strictly not permitted."

The website also lists a wide range of banned items, including family photographs, and warns: "Students must not cut their hair, nor remove hair from between their eyebrows. Doing so will lead to suspention (sic)."

Jamea Al Kauthar was rated "outstanding" by Ofsted earlier this year.

In Leicester, Jameah Girls Academy, which charges £1,750 a year for primary-age pupils and £1,850 for secondary, states in its rules: "Uniform, as set out in the pupil/parent handbook, which comprises of headscarf and habaya for all pupils, and niqab for girls attending the secondary years, to be worn during journeys to and from The Academy."
Ofsted stands for the Office for Standards in Education which inspects schools in Britain.

If these rules indeed are correct, they mean that the students have no choice about covering their faces. Just like with school uniforms in general. Even if students in theory had the choice of choosing a different type of school in practice it is their parents who make that choice.

Another website discusses the wider ramifications of this story:

Imposing the burka is as dangerous as banning it. As Dr Taj Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Trust of Oxford, said, it creates a "dangerous precedent." The imposition of the burka is also a discriminatory measure because it allows only the students who comply with the school's dress code to become students on the grounds that the system educates pupils for an Islamic life. However, most moderate Muslim communities have condemned such policies, arguing they would serve only to isolate children from the rest of society.

Wearing the burka should be a personal choice, not an external imposition. For the same reason, Muslim women in France should be allowed to wear the burka in public institutions should they wish to. Banning the burka, or making it compulsory are both dangerous and extreme measures because they deny women the right to choose how they want to express their faith.
This links directly to feminist discussions about the burqa. The topic casts a lot of light on how the definition of feminism pushes a particular conclusion. Most of the feminists who focus on the outcomes for individual women (the product, if you wish, of a particular societal system of laws, rules and norms) conclude that Muslim women in non-Muslim countries should be allowed to wear the burqa if they so choose to do.

This is because of both the right to religious freedom (if it applies to a particular country in terms of its laws) and because of the fear that women who are not choosing to cover their faces but forced to do so by their families would have even less freedom if burqas and niqabs were banned, because then their families might not let them go out at all.

Still, I have heard several feminists state that they are not themselves comfortable with this conclusion. Perhaps that is because it also implies the right to be subjected to all the rest of the unfairness one's religion imposes on those of the female sex? Including, in some cases, total subjugation of women to men and so on. Thus, in extreme cases this particular lens of feminism leads to the preposterous conclusion that feminists should openly support the right of women to be oppressed. If that is the women's choice, of course!

I have written about this dilemma before. It's not much of a dilemma if one uses the old definition of feminism, having to do with equal rights for all independently of one's assigned gender and equal valuation of traditional male and female spheres of activity. Using this definition often offers the solution to me, and it does in this case, too.

I'm not going to address this directly to the question whether men are allowed to wear burqas and niqabs, too. In some sense they obviously are if women are, but the real question consists of going one step deeper and of asking why religions make different rules for the male and female followers. This is the case in most of the big religions and it certainly is the case in Islam. The Shariah law, for example, is explicitly unequal in many of its decisions. For example, daughters inherit only one half of what sons do, child custody is assumed to go to the father as the default option (i.e., whenever feasible) and so on.

Likewise, men are not expected to cover their hair or almost all of their body in Islam. The rules are different, to begin with, and this means that the appeals to religious freedom immediately and unavoidably set men and women into positions of inequality. This creates the paradox that fighting for the religious freedom of a woman often means fighting for her right to choose subjugation and a more limited life. That is where the reason of that uncomfortable feeling comes from when feminists defend women's right to wear the burqa in Europe or the women's right to choose a polygamous male-dominated religious marriage in the US. Its ultimate source is in the gender inequality that is an inherent part of many religions.

My Week In Review: How To Be A Feminist Activist From Mount Olympus

1.  Thought you might like to know that I sent learned letters of complaints to most of the UK and US websites which so lazily used the Netmums study without having a look at it. That's ten letters. I received three automated answers, the type which is sent to all weird people who send complaints in, the type which says how the recipient drowns in these letters so don't accept an answer.

Which I don't expect, naturally. I know my place. But the BBC in fact did react to my letter and made one small adjustment in their report on the non-scientific Netmums survey. Can you spot the adjustment? It's still wrong, of course, for reasons I discuss in the first post about the survey. But at least it's a small step in the right direction.

I take my helmet off for BBC. They tried and now I will try to link to them more often than any other British sources. That's how it goes.

2.  As I mentioned before,  I also wrote to the authors of the study directly, because I naively thought that they would wish to correct the flawed summary of the study.  Instead, they removed the detailed study results from the Internet and then told me that the results I had used were not the most recent ones.  When I asked for the link to the most recent ones I was told that they were not written up yet.  But somehow, despite the results not being written up yet, the summary has been around for over a week.

3.  All this (from the first post to sending the letters) took me at least twenty hours of work (and I'm very fast, divinely fast).  The impact of all that work is minimal.  It certainly does not change the images readers got from all those biased summaries splashed everywhere, and it is those images which now enter the societal subconsciousness when it comes to mothers and so on.

Most people would argue that my work was pretty much wasted.  But note that this is exactly how false information, drop by drop, turns into a large ocean of sexist thought and then sexist action.  The system is geared toward continuing that process and consumers of it all are far too convinced that All Is Well on the other side of this media circus.  

On the whole, though, I'm pleased.  My own conscience is clean now and the data is out there should anyone else care.  But you can see how impossible it is for a part-time goddess to do something like this all on her own.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The End of Private Health Insurance?

Tom Coburn thinks so and it gives him nightmares:

Sen. Tom Coburn intensified his attack on federal health-care reform Tuesday, telling a local Republican group that the measure signed into law earlier this year will soon force private health insurance companies out of business

"There will be no private health insurance in three or four years," Coburn told the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County. "And that's by design. You're going to make insurance unaffordable for everyone - which is what they want. Because if there's no private insurance left, what's left? Government-centered, government-run, single-payer health care."

The 2,000-page bill's stated purpose is to cover most Americans without health insurance through a combination of expanded Medicare and government-subsidized private insurance, similar to what the state of Oklahoma does now on a limited basis.

Insurers, however, have blamed recent premium increases on new requirements that they cover pre-existing conditions and the children of policyholders up to age 26.

First, health care premia have been increasing steadily for decades, without any help from a frightening plot of government takeover. Indeed, it is partly those continuous increases which gave rise to attempts to reform the system. Because so many people couldn't afford to buy any health insurance whatsoever.

Second, a private health insurance market which cannot cope with people who have pre-existing conditions isn't of much use, especially when a pre-existing condition can be defined as almost anything. If the market is so weak and fragile that it cannot cover anyone but perfectly healthy people, well, then it has bigger problems than some looming government takeover.
Via Wonk Room.

Meanwhile, in Congo. May Trigger.

Margot Wallstrom, the UN secretary general's special representative on sexual crime in conflict, has been to the village of Kampala where mass rapes took place recently as a war tactic:

Shedla Abedi's age was no protection when the rapists came to her village.

"Imagine – a young boy of 20, and me aged 62, old enough to be his grandmother," she said. She pointed to a frail, older woman walking with a stick. "Her too," she said, "And she's over 80."


Rape is a way of humiliating and cowing local populations who may be used as slave labour, but the scale of the August incident shocked even local doctors who have seen many horrors. "It's the first time I have seen something like this," said Dr Cris Baguma of the International Medical Corps, one of the first organisations to help the women. "I can't understand it, because they didn't kill people, it was only for rape."
We must not forget these women, and we must finally stop thinking that the victim of rape is somehow humiliated by that grotesque crime by grotesque perpetrators.

The Chilean Miner Rescue

I have watched the first five miners being rescued and the story is heart-warming and wonderful and, of course, great PR for the president of Chile as well as the mining minister of Chile. The rescue has been extremely professional and an example the U.S. should learn from (coughneworleanscough).

At the same time, if the original disaster had altogether been prevented, would these politicians now have such high approval ratings? It's more likely that they would get no extra kudos from that prevention because nobody would know it happened.

That is a real problem with the way human minds work. One is a greater hero for fixing a problem one perhaps could have prevented than for preventing it in the first place.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not Everyone's Cup Of Tea

Those tea-party candidates. They are pretty extreme on women's reproductive rights, as in that there should be none.

Digby wrote about the misogyny of the tea-party yesterday, with special attention on Ken Buck of Colorado. I decided to check on his position on abortion, and Ken is indeed a guy who wants women to give birth to the child of a rapist:

As a father of two, Ken believes in the value of life and is opposed to abortion except to protect the life of the mother. As U.S. Senator, Ken will oppose federal funding of abortion and will fight to protect the life of the unborn.

Ken believes life begins at conception, and does not favor doing away with common forms of birth control, like the pill.
To insist that women give birth after rape does, of course, mean that no woman theoretically has the right to her own body. Rape, after all, is not something she has chosen.

The same is true of Sharron Angle, another tea-partier:

Angle: I'm pro responsible choice. There is choice to abstain choice to do contraception. There are all kind of good choices.

Manders: Is there any reason at all for an abortion?

Angle: Not in my book.

Manders: So, in other words, rape and incest would not be something?

Angle: You know, I'm a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.
And the same is also true with Rand Paul who seems to find abortion murder even if continuing the pregnancy will kill both the woman and the fetus:

I am 100% pro life. I believe abortion is taking the life of an innocent human being.
I believe life begins at conception and it is the duty of our government to protect this life.
I will always vote for any and all legislation that would end abortion or lead us in the direction of ending abortion.
I believe in a Human Life Amendment and a Life at Conception Act as federal solutions to the abortion issue. I also believe that while we are working toward this goal, there are many other things we can accomplish in the near term.
What's most fascinating about these teabaggers is their great insistence on less government regulation, except when it comes to women. Women should have more government regulation. Weird.

Netmums' Answer and the Question of Resonsibility

No, I'm not obsessed about this survey and its popularity all across the established media in the U.K. and even over here, not at all! I could stop any time I want.

I received an answer from Netmums to my question about how to get hold of the newer detailed survey data now that they erased the data that used to be available, the data I used in my posts about the survey. I was told that the new results have not yet been written up. But how then can there be a summary of them?

Then to the question of responsibility. Until the detailed data vanished from the net I would have put all the responsibility on the newspapers and established websites which simply ran with this fantastic opportunity to bash mothers without any proper checkups.

Why them? Because we all know that thousands of websites do reader surveys all the time, surveys which are not scientific, surveys which are not carried out by statisticians, surveys which essentially mean nothing at all. But those surveys don't get covered by the BBC Education section. They are not taken seriously, because they are not intended to be taken seriously.

Everyone knows that those kinds of surveys are not statistically generalizable and that they are not peer-reviewed. But what that means is that nobody knows if they are any good at all. To take a summary of a survey like that and then to splash it all over a newspaper page, with appropriately shocking pictures, is simply irresponsible journalism. It is bad, lazy and misleading journalism. And at least ten sites did exactly that.

Why? Is everything in those newspapers potentially just pure crap? Maybe. But I think the reason for this particular choice had to do with the exciting material on how bad mothers are. That's what makes a journalist's heart beat faster because that is material which sells. It sells both to all those people who love watching mothers get their comeuppance, it sells to anti-feminists who can point out that it's women themselves who cause their own suffering and it sells to the attacked mothers who then go to the comments threads and explain why it's really daughters who are too hard to cope with. Everybody has fun!

What is really sad about all this is that if you study the detailed results carefully, for both mothers and fathers, the one thing you find there is a slight tendency to regard daughters in a more negative light than sons. That is the one result that would have been worth discussing because both parents did it in the survey, though partly due to poor framing of the questions. But that result disappears in the popularizations and the original summary. It is replaced by an insistent focus on the mothers.

And A Post-Post-Script: The Netmums' Survey on Dads

For the sake of completeness I better put this one up, too. I used these data in this post and in this one, but the data no longer exist on the net, alas:

Here are the full results of the Dads' survey.

1. How many children do you have?

* One child - 30.2%
* Two children - 45.7%
* Three children - 17.1%
* Four children - 4.1%
* More than five children - 2.9%

2. What gender are your children?

1. All girls - 22.6%
2. All boys - 18.4%
3. Both girls and boys - 65.7%

3. If you are planning on having more children, would you like:

* A girl - 16%
* A boy - 18.4%
* Don't mind - 65.7%

4. Before you had children, did you want:

* All girls - 3.6%
* All boys - 5.6%
* Both girls and boys - 33.7%
* I didn't mind - 57.1%

5. Thinking of your son's future, please rank the following in order of how important you consider them to be: (1 is most important and 6 is least important)

1. That they are happy - 91.9 % ranked this as most important

followed by, in order of importance

* 2 - That they have lots of friends
* 3 - That they have a successful career
* 4 - That they are considered attractive
* 5 - That they go to university
* 6 - That they are good at sport

6. Thinking of your daughter's future, please rank the following in order of how important you consider them to be: (1 is most important and 6 is least important)

1 - That they are happy - 95.2% ranked this as most important

followed by, in order of importance

1. 2 - That they have lots of friends
2. 3 - That they have a successful career
3. 4 - That they are considered attractive
4. 5 - That they go to university
5. 6 - That they are good at sport

7. Do you think parents tend to treat girls and boys differently?

* Yes - 86.3%
* No - 13.7%

8. Do you think it is right to treat girls and boys differently?

* Yes - 53.8%
* No - 13.7%

9. If you have children of both genders, did you find it easier to bond with one of your children than the other(s)?

* Yes - 33.3%
* No - 66.7%

10. If yes, please specify whether you found it easiest to bond with your:

* Son - 49%
* Daughter - 51%

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements to do you agree with?

* I am more critical of my son - 28.5% agree
* I am more critical of my daughter - 13.2% agree
* I let my son get away with more - 15.3% agree
* I let my daughter get away with more - 36.8% agree
* I love my son in a different way to my daughter - 23.6% agree
* I argue with my partner about the way we parent each of our children - 32.2% agree
* Boys tend to be naughtier than girls - 33.9% agree
* Girls are more sensible than boys - 33.9% agree
* My son is a mummy's boy - 38.4% agree
* My daughter is a daddy's girl - 46.7% agree
* My daughter gets more treats than my son - 9.9% agree
* My son gets more treats then my daughter - 5.4% agree

12. Of the following adjectives, which do you think best describes girls or boys?

Adjective Boys Girls
Funny 78.3% 21.7%
Cute 18.5% 81.5%
Cheeky 77.2% 22.8%
Caring 20.9% 79.1%
Naughty 78.3% 21.7%
Industrious 63.7% 36.3%
Playful 72% 28%
Thoughtful 26.4% 73.6%
Stroppy 21.3% 78.7%
Loving 36.8% 63.2%
Argumentative 36.9% 63.1%
Eager to please 45% 55%
Serious 41.6% 58.4%

I have no idea what the number of fathers might be who answered this survey because that number was not given.

Today's Very Deep Thought

If I created a sham press release about a study which purports to show that 90% of mothers are planning to stuff their daughters with garlic and then roast them for Sunday dinner, most all major media outlets would accept my study just because of my say-so and would eagerly publish it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Post-Script To The Three Following Posts: The Netmums' Survey of Mums

I informed Netmums about the problems with their summary of the study I discuss in the following three posts. I also informed the BBC and Fox And Friends. There were many, many more sites that I should have informed.

I received a response from Netmums which states that the detailed results I was using in my posts below were not the most recent results (though it's hard to see how there could be more recent results, given that these are from September). They have removed all the detailed results from the net.

This means that only the summary (which I argue is full of errors) is now available for those who wish to study the questions. I have asked for links to those most recent results and will share them with you should I get them. I will also naturally provide corrections to all the posts below if they appear necessary.

Here is my copy of the full results of the Mums' survey, the one which appears not to be the most recent set of results:

In September over 2,500 of you completed our survey to help us find out whether or not we treat our sons and daughters the same or if we expect different things from boys and girls.

Here are the full results of the Mums' survey.

1. How many children do you have?

* One child - 31%
* Two children - 48.6%
* Three children - 14.6%
* Four children - 4.6%
* More than five children - 1.2%

2. What gender are your children?

* All girls - 23.2%
* All boys - 30.8%
* Both girls and boys - 46%

3. If you are planning on having more children, would you like:

* A girl - 21.4%
* A boy - 14.0%
* Don't mind - 64.6%

4. Before you had children, did you want:

* All girls - 8.2%
* All boys - 5.5%
* Both girls and boys - 41.7%
* I didn't mind - 44.6%

5. Thinking of your son's future, please rank the following in order of how important you consider them to be: (1 is most important and 6 is least important)

* 1 - That they are happy - 98% ranked this as most important

followed by, in order of importance

* 2 - That they have lots of friends
* 3 - That they have a successful career
* 4 - That they go to university
* 5 - That they are considered attractive
* 6 - That they are good at sport

6. Thinking of your daughter's future, please rank the following in order of how important you consider them to be: (1 is most important and 6 is least important)

* 1 - That they are happy - 97.9% considered this the most important.

followed by, in order of importance

* 2 - That they have lots of friends
* 3 - That they have a successful career
* 4 - That they are considered attractive
* 5 - That they go to university
* 6 - That they are good at sport

7. Do you think parents tend to treat girls and boys differently?

* Yes - 89.2%
* No - 10.8%

8. Do you think it is right to treat girls and boys differently?

* Yes - 49.4%
* No - 50.6%

9. If you have children of both genders, did you find it easier to bond with one of your children than the other(s)?

* Yes - 27.8%
* No - 72.2%

10. If yes, please specify whether you found it easiest to bond with your:

* Son - 54.9%
* Daughter - 45.1%

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements to do you agree with?

* I am more critical of my son - 11.5% agreed
* I am more critical of my daughter - 21% agreed
* I let my son get away with more - 21.5% agreed
* I let my daughter get away with more - 17.8% agreed
* I love my son in a different way to my daughter - 25.9% agreed
* I argue with my partner about the way we parent each of our children - 32% agreed
* Boys tend to be naughtier than girls - 25.9% agreed
* Girls are more sensible than boys - 29.3% agreed
* My son is a mummy's boy - 47.2% agreed
* My daughter is a daddy's girl - 35.2% agreed
* My daughter gets more treats than my son - 8.4% agreed
* My son gets more treats then my daughter - 5.6% agreed

12. Of the following adjectives, which do you think best describes girls or boys?

Adjective Boys Girls
Funny 76.4% 23.6%
Cute 31.3% 68.7%
Cheeky 79.7% 20.3%
Caring 30% 70%
Naughty 72.2% 27.8%
Industrious 59% 41%
Playful 74.6% 25.4%
Thoughtful 29% 71%
Stroppy 16.1% 83.9%
Loving 58.1% 41.9%
Argumentative 28.4% 71.6%
Eager to please 46.1% 59.9%
Serious 50.5% 59.5%

I also saved the results for the dads' survey which also appear not to be the most recent results and thus have been removed from the net.
ETA:  Check out this popularization.  The numbers in it suggest that the data set I have given above IS the one the survey used.

Two Final Points About Bad Research On Bad Mothers

I sometimes despair of my ability to explain what is wrong with some crappy piece of research in general or with an Internet survey which you can take or not, as you please, in particular. But maybe the latter becomes clearer if we did a survey among just the readers of this blog on some topic about gender. It's pretty obvious that the results from that one would not reflect the general views of people out there (mostly because you are smarter, heh).

The same problem exists with all those Internet surveys. People who are willing to answer them may differ in some ways from people who are not interested in answering them. For instance, they may care more about the questions in that survey than the general population the survey tries to reach.

All this is preparation to ask you if the two posts below are of any use or not and if they are clear to you. That's the first point.

The second point has to do with that outrageous argument in both the BBC article and in the Fox And Friends discussion that 55% of mothers find it easier to bond with their sons.

That made me incredibly angry because the survey, flawed as it is, tells us nothing of the sort. What it tells us is that 15.26% of mothers with both sons and daughters in the survey bonded best with a child who is a son. The other children are not necessarily all daughters, by the way.

But if we wanted to give some sort of a total number, along the lines followed by both the BBC article and the Fox And Friends discussion, then that number would be around 7%, as only 46% of the mothers in the study had both sons and daughters. That number is naturally nonsensical, because parents without both sons and daughters cannot answer a question like that in any meaningful way. Still, we are given something more nonsensical by the BBC: False data applied to an inappropriate sample.

ETA: I found out that the sources of the errors are in the Netmums' own summary of the study. Examples:

A new survey by Netmums revealed that mums are much more critical of their daughters than their sons. Over 2500 mums took the survey and a staggering 88% admitted that they treated their sons and daughters differently despite thinking that this was 'wrong'.

The results showed that mums are twice as likely to criticise daughters. One in five admitted to letting their sons get away with more and more than half of all respondents (55%) even went as far as admitting they have stronger bonds with their sons.
Now, the net is full of bad surveys. But why some of them are picked for popularization without any scrutiny, well, that's worth thinking about.

Bad Research on Bad Mothers: Part II: The BBC Education News

This post is a continuation of the one below and needs the information given in that one. I'm going to continue peeling away the biases which contribute to popularizations of bad studies and incorrect data when they somehow allow the blaming of women in general and mothers in particular.

As a summary of the previous post, I showed that a non-scientific survey of child-rearing and gender opinions has been misinterpreted, misunderstood and given the kind of regard only true scientific studies should have. In this post I want to look at the assignment of certain characteristics to female parents when the characteristics should be applied to both female and male parents. I will also continue to point out misuses of the original Internet survey.

The BBC provides the following summary about the survey:

Mothers are more critical of their daughters than their sons and let boys get away with more, a poll suggests.

The survey by the website Netmums found mothers were twice as likely to be critical of their daughters than their sons (21% compared to 11.5%).
Remember that fathers are more critical of their sons (28.5%) than their daughters (13.2%)? That's twice as critical of their sons than their daughters! What a coincidence. They also let their daughters get away with more:

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements do you agree with?


* I let my son get away with more - 15.3% agree
* I let my daughter get away with more - 36.8% agree


* I let my son get away with more - 21.5 agree
* I let my daughter get away with more - 17.8% agree
So why don't we have the BBC report on fathers being more critical of their sons and letting their daughters get away with more?
Now, it's always possible that the dad survey was so small nobody cared about the findings. But given that both surveys are based on a non-random sampling scheme, nobody should care about any of the findings.

Next part of the BBC summary:

More than half of the 2,672 mothers questioned (55%) said they had formed a stronger bond with their boys.
Um. Read the first post on this to see how blatantly and horribly wrong that assertion is. The correct percentage 15.3% of mothers who had children of both sexes, and the corresponding percentage for fathers is 16.17%

Back to the BBC summary:

The findings also suggest 51% thought it was wrong to treat boys and girls differently
The survey results tell us that 49.4% of mothers thought it was right to treat daughters and sons differently and 50.6% thought it was wrong. These numbers add up to 100%.

It also tells us that 53.8% of fathers thought treating sons and daughters differently was right, too. What the percentage of fathers might be who disagree is unclear because the survey results have the percentage of 14.7% for that answer. Which doesn't make sense and happens also to be the percentage answer to another question right above this question. It looks like 46% of fathers think treating boys and girls differently is wrong. That's a smaller percentage than the one for the mothers.

What that means, within the survey, is that the fathers were more comfortable with treating their sons and daughters differently than the mothers.

More from that summary:

Almost half of mothers questioned (48%) said their sons were mummy's boys
The percentage should be 47.2%. And almost half of fathers questioned (46.7%) said their daughters were daddy's girls! The survey didn't offer questions about sons being daddy's boys or daughters being mommy's girls! Sorta biased, don't you think? Even without that total focus on mothers' answers?


The poll found mothers were more likely to attribute positive personality traits to their sons than their daughters.

Boys were more likely to be described as funny, cheeky, playful and loving, while girls were more likely to be described as stroppy, eager to please, serious and argumentative.
Actually (I'm getting tired of saying that), the poll asked the respondents to answer the following question:

12. Of the following adjectives, which do you think best describes girls or boys?
Note that this is NOT the same as asking it about the respondents' daughters or sons, and this question appears to be open for all parents, whether they in fact have children of both sexes or not. Note, also, that respondents could not pick the alternative "both" which means, for example, that you could NOT state that both girls and boys are industrious or loving. You had to choose one gender. I discuss the consequences of that in the first post.

But let's see how fathers and mothers agree and differ in the way they assign adjectives to boys and girls in that biased question.

First, they mostly don't differ. The percentage of both mothers and fathers who assign "funny", "cheeky", "naughty" and "playful" to boys is in the range 70-80%, as is the percentage of both mothers and fathers who assign "caring" to girls. The majority of both mothers and fathers also agree that the adjectives "cute", "serious", "thoughtful", "argumentative" and "eager to please" belong to girls, while the adjective "industrious" belongs to boys, though some of these percentage differences come closer to the fifty-fifty point.

The negative adjective "stroppy" (which really appears to duplicate "naughty" and "argumentative" and perhaps even "cheeky" if one flavors similar behavior differently by gender) is assigned to girls by 83.9% of the mothers in the survey and by 78.7% of the fathers.

All this tells us that if the mothers assign boys positive characteristics so do the fathers. But then that's what the British culture does, overall.

The only large difference between mothers and fathers in the survey had to do with the assignment of the adjective "loving": 63.2% of fathers assigned it to girls, whereas 58.1% of mothers assigned it to boys.

This concludes my writing on a survey which really didn't deserve any writing but required it after it became viral in that usual look-at-how-awful-mothers-are way.
Thanks for DR for the link to the BBC EDUCATION! article.

Bad Research On Bad Mothers. Part I: Fox Popularizes It

DR sent me a link to Fox and friends discussion of a British study about how mothers treat their sons and daughters. Here is the relevant part of the show's rush (?) transcript:

02:05:27 >> Alisyn: An illustration of is british survey asked 2,000 women about their opinions towards their sons and their daughters and this is, by the way, via the internet and people could be more honest than they can be face-to-face and they found and I must say, this does ring true in my house and never noticed it until the study came out, 88% of mothers admit they are more critical of their daughters.
02:05:54 Than of their sons and use different adjectives, to describe them, the boys they think are funny, playful, .. their daughters, how do they describe them.
02:06:04 >> Clayton: Look, they describe their daughters as stroppy, british, argumentative and serious.
02:06:12 And they get into fights with them all the time and 55% of moms said they found it easier to bond with their sons.
02:06:19 >> Dave: I find that, it really comes down to who's oldest and who's youngest.
02:06:23 The examples I have seen the parents are tougher on the burst foreign child.
02:06:26 I mean, that is -- >> Clayton: That was my experience.
02:06:29 >> Dave: And mine, much easier on me, yeah.
02:06:31 I have seen -- >> Alisyn: That makes fee feel better, my first born are twin girls and our little boy, i would describe him as funnier, more playful and more loving and cuter and I thought it was girls are harder than boys.
02:06:47 >> Clayton: They are.
02:06:47 >> Alisyn: There you have it.
02:06:49 >> Clayton: Let me ask you -- >> Alisyn: We're blaming the kids, note parents.
02:06:52 >> Clayton: Let me ask you, hopefully your kids are not watching, which kids do you love more?
02:06:58 Go ahead, answer.
02:06:59 >> Alisyn: Look, all I'm saying is little boys are easier.
02:07:02 I think.
02:07:03 And that is why I'm possibly nicer to my little sons.
02:07:07 >> Clayton: My sisters got away with murder.
02:07:09 High sister what's the second born and my mom -- there was a lot of fire between them growing up, arguing back and forth.
02:07:14 But, you know, I had the earlier curfew, I'm sure, like you, FIRST BORNs AND SHE WAS OUT LIKE An hour-and-a-half later and i was like, wait.
02:07:21 >> Dave: I was the youngest.
02:07:23 >> Clayton: You were the youngest.
02:07:24 >> Dave: I stayed out all night!
02:07:27 >> Dave: We need another study for dave.
02:07:29 >> Dave: E-mail us, com, girls are more complicated.
02:07:37 >> Alisyn: I think so, too.
Now pay attention, my sweet readers:

Here we have a British study about mothers being harsher on their daughters! And the conclusion of the Fox And Friends discussion is?

Boys are easier!

What a relief for all mothers! Because it's OK to be harsher on your daughters than sons as it's the fault of the daughters. They are so hard to bring up.

That's what the popularizing media is telling us.

Now get your shovels out because we are going to start digging for this study.

Studying The "Study"

The first problem: It turns out that it's not a proper academic study at all! It's a survey carried out by a British website called Netmums, and, as far as I can see, participation in it is voluntary.

The second problem: If the people participating in that "study" are not a random sample of British mothers but a self-selection from the members/readers of that particular website, Netmums, none of the results can be statistically generalized to the overall population of British mothers, and they certainly cannot be generalized to American mothers. Except that Fox And Friends does exactly that.

Let's have a look at the survey questions themselves. That reveals the third problem: The survey is poorly designed and leads the recipient to certain answers, in particular in this question:

Of the following adjectives, which do you think best describes girls or boys? Funny, cute, cheeky, caring, naughty, industrious, playful, thoughtful, stroppy, loving, argumentative, eager to please, serious.
What is very bad about this question is that the answer cannot be applied to BOTH boys and girls. The respondents are FORCED to pick either boys or girls. Thus, if you think both your sons and daughters are funny/naughty/whatever, you must still pick either daughters or sons in the answer. Why is this a problem? Suppose that you think boys and girls are almost equally likely to be, say, naughty. This survey forces you to pick one or the other, and when the results are summarized you suddenly develop this tremendous difference by gender which may not be there in the first place. Also, forcing an either/or type of answer will certainly be affected by the societal gender norms. If you really think that boys and girls are equally stroppy but you must pick one, you are going to use that societal knowledge in your answer.

Finally, here's the fourth problem having to do with the popularization of this survey rather than the survey itself: Netmums also surveyed fathers! But the results about fathers appear uninteresting to Fox and Friends. Though I should add that the actual numbers of mothers and fathers responding to the survey are given in none of the places I searched (that would be the fifth problem), so I have no idea how many dads participated and how many mums participated. If the number of dads was, say, ten, then not discussing those results might make some sense, though only if the samples were random to begin with.

Are you having fun yet? I next printed out the survey results for mothers and fathers and collated them. Some of the figures, by the way, make no sense as added up they exceed 100% when the question doesn't allow that, and in other cases the figures may be typing errors.

What that little exercise showed me is that the mums and dads in this survey are not statistically similar groups as comes to their family composition. This is evident in the first two questions which ask how many children and of what sexes the respondent has. Among the fathers 18.4% had only sons but among the mothers 30.8% had only sons. Such a difference is large enough to make me believe that there is bias in the way people entered this study, and that bias is most likely coming from the fact that you could choose to participate. Note that the percentages of parents who had only daughters were fairly similar (22.6% of fathers and 23.2% of mothers) among the respondents.

Back To Fox And Friends' Take on the "Study"

Let's have a look at some of those assertions Fox And Friends made about the survey:

I must say, this does ring true in my house and never noticed it until the study came out, 88% of mothers admit they are more critical of their daughters.
Where did that come from? Let me check my papers*. Here it is:

For mothers:

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements do you agree with?
* I am more critical of my son - 11.5% agree
* I am more critical of my daughter - 21% agree

For fathers:

11. If you have children of both genders, which of the following statements do you agree with?
* I am more critical of my son - 28.5% agree
* I am more critical of my daughter - 13.2% agree
Astonishing! Mindboggling! Where the f**k did Fox and News get that 88% figure for the mothers????

And note that the percentages for fathers and mothers seem to be mirror images, pretty much. Logic suggests that we should have had something about 88% of fathers being harsher with their sons on that show. Of course it would have been equally preposterously wrong but at least it would have been logical.

This is fun. Next comment from the Fox and Friends program:

And they get into fights with them all the time and 55% of moms said they found it easier to bond with their sons.
Get into fights with them all the time? However hard I comb the study I don't find that pearl of information anywhere. There is no question about fighting in that survey. The closest match I can find is in that biased question where you have to attach an adjective to either girls or boys but not both, and both mothers and fathers attach the adjective "argumentative" much more often to girls than boys. But that doesn't mean "getting into fights with them all the time", and if it does mean that then both fathers and mothers get into those.

What about that bonding bit? A disgusting misinterpretation of the data which goes like this:

Only for mothers who have both sons and daughters:
9. If you have children of both genders, did you find it easier to bond with one of your children than the other(s)?

* Yes - 27.8%
* No - 72.2%

10. If yes, please specify whether you found it easiest to bond with your:

* Son - 54.9%
* Daughter - 45.1%

And only for fathers who have both sons and daughters:
9. If you have children of both genders, did you find it easier to bond with one of your children than the other(s)?

* Yes - 33.3%
* No - 66.7%

10. If yes, please specify whether you found it easiest to bond with your:

* Son - 49%
* Daughter - 51%
So let's see how many lies Fox And Friends managed to get into that one: They stated that 55% of mothers found it easier to bond with sons. First, the question was only asked of parents who had both sons and daughters, though that's not a big problem, but it does change the overall percentages (note that they talk about all mothers). Second, out of the mothers who had both sons and daughters 72.2% did not find bonding any different by the gender of the child. Only 27.8% did, and out of those 54.9% found that the child they had the strongest bond with was a son.

Note also the data for fathers.

So what's the actual percentage of mothers in that survey who found it easier to bond with a son than a daughter? And what's the actual percentage of fathers who found it easier to bond with a son than a daughter?

The total answer doesn't make sense because roughly 30% of both mothers and fathers only had one child, and only 46% of the mothers (though 65.7% of the fathers) had children of both sexes. But it's possible to figure out the percentage of mothers and fathers within the group of parents which had both sons and daughters who found it easiest to bond with a child of the male sex. These percentages are 16.17% (49% of 33.3%) for fathers and 15.26% (54.9% of 27.8%) for mothers.

Now compare that to the 55% figure in Fox And Friends!

Last but not least: Boys are easier! Where did that conclusion come from? The survey asks nothing about the ease with which one can bring up a son or a daughter, nothing.

Perhaps this is all some sort of code for the survey results that both mothers (83.9%) and fathers (78.7%) find girls stroppier than boys in that question where they were forced to pick either boys or girls for each adjective. "Stroppy" is British slang for obstreperous, belligerent, easily insulted.

In the next part of this post I'm going to have a look at another popularization of this study. A calmer and gentler one than the Fox And Friends chatter.
These results can be found in the results for moms and the results for dads. I printed them out and looked at them side-by-side.

Added later: Netmums removed the detailed results from the net the day after I sent them my questions about their interpretation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Echidne Post

Sometimes I think I'm like that Crazy Feminist Aunt In The Attic in my blogging. Yellin' and screamin' and coming to family parties with a dead chicken pinned to my hat and slurping the coffee off the saucer and saying outrageous things innocently aloud and so everyone pretends not to notice. Battering at the floor. Yes, those spooky sounds you hear are me.

On the other hand, attics are lovely places, airy or crammed with goodies to examine, with space (at the top of the stairs) for dancing the jitterbug and with time-space for silence filled with sounds.

In other news, I can still make a great omelet, thanks for all the advice you gave me here some time ago. But now I want a house at a lakeside. Something like this one:

It's too small, though. But I love the tower. Perhaps two of these, put together so that there's a tower at each end?

What's your dream house?

Paul Dukas

La Plainte, au loin, d'un faune

Jean Hubeau

I was looking for another piece for the season and came across this piece Dukas wrote as his contribution to the memorial pieces many composers wrote after Debussy died. It's not exactly an autumn piece but it's pretty autumnal. Jean Hubeau studied piano with Lazare Levy and compostion with Dukas, himself.

And the same piece played by

Yvonne Lefebure

"Nazi Re-enactment" [Anthony McCarthy]

And They're Running for Congress.

This news is really disturbing.

Rich Iott, the Republican nominee for Congress from Ohio's 9th District, and a Tea Party favorite, who for years donned a German Waffen SS uniform and participated in Nazi re-enactments.

Iott, whose district lies in Northwest Ohio, was involved with a group that calls itself "Wiking", whose members are devoted to re-enacting the exploits of an actual Nazi division, the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking", which fought mainly on the Eastern Front during World War II. Iott's participation in the Wiking group is not mentioned on his campaign's website, and his name and photographs were removed from the Wiking website.

I'd not realized that there were "Nazi re-enacters" . But it's something that shouldn't be a surprise. Confederate "re-enactment" is disturbingly common. And like that Civil War dress up and play hobby, the Nazi side of WWII "historical re-enactment" is really a falsification and distortion of what happened. These guys are a lot bigger on getting the details of their costumes right than they are with telling the truth about the historical record. It's bad enough to conveniently overlook that the Confederate side of the Civil War was fighting to maintain slavery and white supremacy a century and a half ago. To sanitize an SS unit of the Nazi army whose crimes are within living memory, in Ohio, is shocking.

The Republican Party has a disturbing and largely suppressed history of involvement with Nazis and former Nazis and the allies of Nazis. It's clear from this incident that involvement didn't die with the cold war and that the continued suppression of history is not a harmless matter of politeness to some of our more powerful people and families. After the crimes of the Nazis were committed and revealed, what might have been merely naive in the 1930s, becomes morally abhorrent.

People who falsify history almost always have a malignant agenda and that agenda almost always favors some form of inequality based on identity. The denial of the history of slavery in New England was essential for the assertion of the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon protestant elite of the 19th and early 20th century. The even more absurd denial of the place of retaining slavery in the Confederate rebellion played an important part in the retention of Jim Crow, semi-slavery well into this century. The lies about the real history of women under patriarchy is about the biggest lie in history.

These lies are perpetuated in novels and theatrical fiction, which are the primary substitute for historical information in the United States. With TV those the presentation of false history as mass entertainment has turned it into powerful propaganda. And those falsifications have a social and political effect. Denying that effect is also a lie, one of the favorite lies of the educated elite today. But causes have effects and so do intentions that can be put into effect. Falsifying the intentions of those who acted in history is essential to denying the effects of their actions. And that falsification can have the same results independent of the intentions of those telling the lies. Falsely romantic tales of the South told by hack writers for Hollywood with no more intent than to get paid have probably done more to perpetuate racism than all of the unreadable academic falsification effort put together. This stuff isn't harmless.

If Iott isn't forced to withdraw on the basis of his involvement with glorification and falsification of the Nazi SS, for God's sake, then we are in real danger from this. Having someone who is engaged in the falsification of the history of the SS in congress is not tolerable.