Sunday, November 03, 2013

Two Sunday Posts: On Female Marines in the US And The Preference For Sons in Azerbaijan

This might be a better format than speed-blogging?

1.  On pullups in the Marine Corps:

Four female Marines have passed what is considered the most strenuous aspect of enlisted infantry training, prompting officials here at the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry – East to surmise that at least some of the 15 women who began the course in September will graduate next month.
The women are assigned to Delta Company, part of the Infantry Training Battalion to which all prospective grunts are shipped after they complete boot camp. They are the first group of enlisted women to conduct such training as part of the service’s ongoing research to determine what additional ground combat jobs may lift gender restrictions.
New female Marine officers have been allowed to enroll in infantry training since last year, but as yet none has passed that course, which is considered among the U.S. military’s most arduous.
“Given the performance of female Marines with Delta Company, there is a high probability that some will be standing in formation at graduation,” said Col. Jeffrey Conner, SOI-East’s commanding officer.

This is out of a total of seven female Marines volunteering for the latest test.  Two of the three who failed plan to retake the assignment.   Here's the part I want to discuss:

And although there are more tests ahead, Monday’s hike represented the course’s last significant physical challenge. The only potential hurdle remaining, Conner said, is a final Physical Fitness Test. To pass it, the women will have to perform pullups as the men do.
Starting Jan. 1, pullups will be required for all female Marines conducting their annual PFT. That’s a new requirement. Heretofore, women executed a flexed-arm hang as a test of upper body strength. As part of this research, however, officials have stressed that women will be held to the same standard as men.

Given the average upper body differences in strength, this is a tougher test for women than men. It's not beyond a fit woman to manage, but it requires more training.

I'd like to know whether the tests are designed to test an individual's ability to get certain tasks done or whether the tests are designed to test an individual man's ability to get certain tasks done.  To give you an example, the best way to scale a high brick wall for a woman might be to use her hips much more than her arms.  That might not be true for a man (always speaking about averages).

I'm not opposed to requiring all members of some profession to have the same threshold skills.  But those skills should be based on getting the job done, not on getting the job done in only one possible way.

This also links to the idea that what we test is  based on traditions.  For example,  it could be that a test that requires very very long runs or long swims in the ocean shows some female superiority.  But those are not the kinds of tests which would traditionally occur to the test-designers in the military.  --  And then of course it's important to determine to what extent skills such as the ability to perform multiple pullups are really needed in the job.

On the whole, I'm pleased that the women who wish to participate in this training have a chance to do so.  It's too bad that they might not gain much from a successful completion, however.

2.  Meanwhile, in Azerbaijan,  sex-selective abortions are used to get the sons Azerbaijani culture prefers to daughters:

Baku, Azerbaijan - After giving birth to a baby girl, 24-year-old Shana knew what to expect the second time she became pregnant.
"When we found out that the second baby was going to be another girl, my husband said that he didn't want her and I was forced to have an abortion. It was already three months and 10 days. They anaesthetised me and cut the foetus out of me."
Shana's second daughter was one of thousands of girls aborted in Azerbaijan every year.
According to a 2012 report by the Guttmacher Institute, Azerbaijan has the highest total abortion rate in the world, with women having on average 2.3 abortions in their lifetimes. Between 2005 and 2009 almost 10 percent of potential female births in Armenia and Azerbaijan did not occur because of prenatal sex selection, another report found.
The oil-rich country has one of the world's worst records in sex-selective abortions, according to a report for the UN. In normal circumstances, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. In Azerbaijan, the ratio in 2011-12 was 116 boys for every 100 girls. In some parts of the country, such as the Ganja region, the ratio is as high as 120 to 100.

Bolds are mine.  Using abortions to select the sex of children has been used in general arguments against abortion.  Indeed, there are conservative states in the US which work towards that aim.  This is somewhat surprising as the same states otherwise care nothing about women and as sex-selective abortions are a tiny problem in this country.

The real problem in cultures which prefer sons to daughters is, of course, not the availability of abortions, but the fact that daughters are not wanted.  And that is because women are not valued.

In short, what we observe is this:  A society contemptuous of women, a society not finding much of value in women, except their ability to breed sons, gains access to easily available abortions.  What do you expect they will be used for? 

There are economic and cultural reasons for the preference for sons, naturally.  The very definition of family based on the father's blood family, the expectation that sons will take care of their parents in old age, and most importantly, the fact that families trade women in (patrilocal*  marriages) rather than men (in matrilocal marriages), in that the women leave their families**.  Any investments in daughters are, therefore, seen as wasted.  Like watering your neighbor's garden, I once read.

The articles about son preference and its consequences always, always, always write about the future scarcity of wives, the possibility that more women will be kidnapped or trafficked as wives and so on.  In some ways our focus is still on something other than the real position of women in those cultures.  The worst of these articles (not this one) pretty much regard the problem only from the point of view of future wife-seekers.

But the only real solution is to affect the sexist underpinnings of the preference for sons.  It can be done, as the article mentions in the context of South Korea:

Meanwhile, the case of South Korea has been commonly used as a successful example of how imbalanced sex ratios can be reversed.
By the mid-1990s, South Korea's sex ratio at birth was similar to Azerbaijan's today. But by 2007 it had declined to 107 males born per 100 females. South Korea based its strategy on a multidisciplinary approach: Legislation against prenatal sex detection was passed and effectively put into force; a mass media campaign called "Love your daughter" was launched; and new measures were passed to encourage gender equality. These new policies were aided by South Korea's economic boom, which helped women join the workforce and thereby achieve more autonomy.

Do these two posts have anything in common***?  I'm not sure, but  I write so much about giving women equal opportunities because the traditional female cultural norms seem to breed sexism and gender-based inequality and, ultimately, a certain kind of careless loathing of all things female, in both men and women.
*The custom of women taking the man's name at marriage is a reminder of that same practice in the West.  The woman "leaves" her natal family and "joins" her husband's family.
**And in many cultures require expensive dowries.  It's logical (in a callous and horrible way) to prefer sons to daughters when the latter cost money and yield very little, except for some useful new family connections.  But note that all those aspects which make the birth of a daughter a sad day can be changed.  They are not even especially hard to change, as cultural norms go.
***I know that they don't apply to the same countries and no way am I suggesting that things wouldn't be loads better in the US.  But the work required is similar in all countries.