Friday, March 08, 2013

On The International Women's Day, 2013

The meaning of this day seems to be changing to something a little like Mothers' Day.  I spot people congratulating women on this day and such.  That's not the intention of the day.  It also feeds directly into the argument that having a day for women but not a special set-aside day for men is sexist.

Of course the traditional tongue-in-cheek response to that argument is that we have 364 other annual days for men, and this is true on several levels. 

Just read a few newspapers and observe what the sections cover, whose pictures they mostly publish and whose opinions they record.  The sections of a newspaper used to cover domestic and foreign politics (mostly men), the economy and the stock market (mostly men), sports (almost completely men) and then a few areas (local news, cooking, tourism) which might have had a few more women.  Start paying attention to the male-female percentages in various panel discussions on television.  Notice how the role of women in many movies were deemed covered if there was one of each necessary type (girlfriend, mother, evil slut).

Things are not quite that bad in the US and Europe today but you can still easily spot the difference.  And the new VIDA counts on book reviews and book reviewers, by gender, tells us that even in an area which the evo-psychos and other essentialists argue belongs to the girls by their innate excellence, language use, it is the girls who fail to get much attention in most of those august newspapers.

In a more global sense women are still mostly in deep s**t.  The laws of many countries disadvantage them from birth and assign their ownership to their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.  Rape and other forms of sexual violence can be ignored or even result in the punishment of the victims.  Still-living traditions having to do with the way one acquires a wife and how one treats a daughter-in-law can be monstrous.  Women in some countries cannot inherit the land when their husbands die, women in other countries need the husband's permission to go out alone.

And most significantly for me:  Women are looked down upon, despised, in far too places on this planet.  A little girl's birth is a failed experiment, something of lower value.  Because of social traditions, it can burden a poor family so much that the family chooses to kill the child or abandon her when that would not have been done to a boy baby.

I don't usually go all righteous on these topics though they cut my heart like knives most days.  But the point of the International Women's Day is to remember those horrors, to remember the injustices, to start persuading people that girls and women are human beings, too, to fix the injustices.  The point is not, as some fairly oblivious people argue, to give women their very own day when men do not have one.  That would be a reasonable argument if women and men were already treated equally  all over the world.

The problem the International Women's Day was created to solve is not that we didn't have a day like Mothers' Day for all women.  That would be silly.  Neither is the International Women's Day supposed to be there to shame the men who live today.  They are, after all, born into the same societies as the women and absorb the same rules and those who uphold the unfair structures include women.  No, those are not the intentions.  The intentions are to keep in mind one widespread injustice that we have not been able to fix yet.

A Meta-Post On Income Inequality

Or utterly weird.  You decide.  This post is based on some pictures I have on my desktop and my desire to randomly pick two of them and write a post tying them together!  Here are the pictures:


The top one is a fantastic knitting creation:  A blue tit.  The bottom picture compares the actual wealth inequality in the United States to what Americans think it is and to what they would like it to be.  That graph is based on a somewhat older study that I wrote about at the time.  It turns out that Americans (those right-wing conservative Americans!) like the wealth inequality that Sweden happens to have.

So what ties the two pictures together?

The way we are deceived.  In the charming knitted tit we initially might see a real living tit.  But that deception is fine because it doesn't matter. 

In the wealth inequality bars we see the ability of the US Powers That Be to hoodwink Americans into not seeing the real wealth inequality of this country, for selling them the idea that there is too much income redistribution towards the lower rungs already, and the whole kit and kaboodle about the Big Bad Government.

Most Americans, at least on the basis of that survey, don't realize how very unequally wealth is divided in this country, and they don't want it divided that way.  But they are offered a knitted blue tit instead of a living one.

Duh.  It sorta worked, did it not, this exercise of mine?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Good News/Bad News On Violence Against Women

Good news:  Tunisia establishes the first public domestic violence center.
Bad news:  That it is only the first one, and this:

Resistance to confronting the problem is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture, says Badi, whose hold on her post could change as the government, which has been undergoing turmoil, restructures. “Some people,” the minister says, “are afraid to see women gain autonomy; they fear it’s going to break families.”
There's the hidden nut in almost all the discussions in any country about the evil feminism has caused:  The break-up of the families.  An observer from outer space would ask why the concept of a family must be built upon the backs of women, including those women whose backs get whipped in the process.  Why not make families more democratic institutions?  That question is rhetorical, natch.

Bad news:

Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on the Maldivian government to overturn a court ruling sentencing a 15 year-old rape victim to 100 lashes for an unrelated fornication offence.

The story of the girl from Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, who was convicted of premarital sex in the Juvenile Court February 26 and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest, has been reported by media around the world and been widely condemned by international NGOs and embassies.

'It's so horrific that it's hard to believe it's true: a 15 year old rape survivor has been sentenced to 100 lashes for 'fornication' in the Maldives,' stated Amnesty International, which has followed the case since January.

'The traumatised girl was allegedly sexually abused by her step-father for many years. He has since been charged with sexually assaulting a minor. During the investigation however, authorities came across evidence to support separate charges of fornication against the girl for pre-marital sex,' Amnesty stated, demanding the government overturn the 'disgraceful' sentence.

Good news:  The international reaction to this and the domestic critics of the sentence in the Maldives.

Good news:  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was reauthorized.

Bad news:  Rush Limbaugh's take on it.   VAWA addresses crimes which were not adequately addressed in earlier laws, and those crimes have predominantly female victims.  The point of  VAWA is not to argue that all women get beaten to a pulp or that women face more violence, on average, than men do.  The point of VAWA is to adequately address behaviors such as stalking which affects female victims more than male victims and which has been shown to be linked to violence, including homicide.

Gaming While Female

In Internet games, that is.  Alphabet Hotel found these two sites which reproduce some of the comments players who are deemed to be women or girls get.

The first one is called  The name is shorthand for the most common slurs.  The other site is called, and the name also refers to those "make me a sammitch bitch" and "who let you out of the kitchen" jokes.

I don't play any of those games the sites describe so I have no idea about how common these comments are and whether men get somehow the reverse of these insults.  But I doubt the latter, because men are more often treated as individuals (though there are racist and homophobic exceptions to that rule).  In any case, there is no reverse slur meaning whore or slutty for men (that would be badge of honor) and I'm pretty sure that ugly and fat are not insults aimed at men, either.

With the warning that I have no knowledge of the actual frequency of these kinds of insults (they are collected in a few places in large numbers but may not be common for any one female gamer to receive)  and so on, it's worth looking at what they consist of.

After reading several pages of them I can divide them into groups.  The two main groups are the kitchen jokes and the sexuality insults.  The former "put women in their place" in the guise of a joke.  The latter argue that the gamer in question is either sexually promiscuous (slut, whore, slag) or that the gamer is not sexually attractive (ugly, fat).  Some of the latter group sound frightening or violent but most are just overall statements about an unknown woman obviously being a slut, ugly or fat.

I think all that shows a real lack of imagination.  People should create better insults, and in gaming they should relate to the game.  But it also shows that generalization I've written about before:

Women are viewed as spoonfuls of their sex and so insults about the sex seem appropriate.  You can't do that with men in gaming, both because men are the majority and also because men are insulted not as men but as individuals or as members of a racial or sexual minority.  It's that spoonfuls-of-vagina idea which makes the insults so boring and so predictable, after a while.

This post has a minor link to my previous post about How To Fight Politely.

P.S. I'm aware of the custom of initial hazing in some male groups and I get that a female gamer who survives through this kind of hazing might be accepted as a member of the group afterwards.  But the hazing is sexist in itself.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

How To Fight Politely

Probably you kick someone in the groin and then mutter a polite "excuse me" and offer them a cucumber sandwich and some China tea?

Fighting politely on the Internet can be a real problem for us womenz because the rules are different.  If you fight nasty, then you are a horrible bitch.  If the opponent is also a woman, then it's a cat fight (Have you, by the way, ever seen a real cat fight?  It's a frightening experience.).

But if you don't fight at all you a) become inaudible and invisible and b) lose the argument.  So it goes.

Still, the question of good manners doesn't apply to just women, as this opinion  on Paul Krugman shows us:*

Bloomberg's Sara Eisen reached out to author and global thinker Niall Ferguson, who had this to say about the New York Times columnist and Princeton Nobel laureate (emphasis ours):
In my view Paul Krugman has done fundamental damage to the quality of public discourse on economics. He can be forgiven for being wrong, as he frequently is--though he never admits it. He can be forgiven for relentlessly and monotonously politicizing every issue. What is unforgivable is the total absence of civility that characterizes his writing. His inability to debate a question without insulting his opponent suggests some kind of deep insecurity perhaps the result of a childhood trauma. It is a pity that a once talented scholar should demean himself in this way.

Krugman's answer:

What a pathetic response. Notice that he is doing precisely what I never do, and making it about the person as opposed to his ideas. All I have ever done to him is point out that he seems to not know what he is talking about, and that he has been repeatedly wrong. I would never stoop to speculating about his childhood! If he can't handle professional criticism -- which is all that I have ever offered -- he should go find another profession.
Hmm.  If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  Which is, interestingly, one of the few saws about aggressiveness that is set in a female setting.

This whole topic is quite complicated and I find myself skipping all over the place:

1.  In principle, I believe in politeness, in the idea that whoever I debate is most likely a human being (there might be demons and hence the reservation) and should be treated with that basic courtesy.

2.  But, and this is a big but:  I have learned, in the course of my long blogging career, that the fact of my femaleness elicits aggression and comments (a foaming c**t) that I would not get had I blogged under a handle such as Brawny Bob For Christ.  No amount of divine politeness completely works to rescue me from those comments or the very nasty threats.  So how to respond to all that?  Should I employ my viper tongue?  I have that gift but it's largely kept under lock-and-key.

Despite my explicit endeavors to be polite, I came across one site where my writing was described as vitriolic and vicious.  And me such a sweet and gentle and caring goddess!  The world is so unfair.

3.  The further implication of the gender difference in attacks is a troubling one.  If women are attacked more (which seems to be the case) then those attacks can have a silencing effect on women and may reduce their participation in online debates.  Or require the veil of a false handle, at least.

4.  The wider problem with politeness on the Internet is an obvious one.  We have now learned what people might say when they can say it anonymously, and much of that is truly nasty.  Read enough comments threads, and no amount of chanting "these are outliers, these are the extremists" will stop you wondering if you live in a world inhabited largely by a breed of secret bigots and misogynists.

5.  But the Ferguson-Krugman exchange is not about that.  It's about what quite famous male experts can say in public debates, and in that sense it poses an interesting question.  It also notes one of the no-nos in public debates (personal insults), followed by a possible insult about not being equipped to participate in hard give-and-take debates.

I think there is a difference in how right-wing and left-wing debaters are treated in this sense.  Think of Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh.  One can get away with real rudeness on the right, whereas the same level of rudeness from the left is pointed out.

6.  Finally, one can have the most polite debate in the whole world on some topic such as "Are people like  Echidne persons or just vacuum cleaners for penises?" and that, my friends, is the type of rudeness that mostly goes unnoticed.  Witness also the debates about race, about group differences in IQs,  about whether criminality has a racial genetic component, about whether women are essentially rather stupid and so on.  The participants in such debates are all assumed to hold the same level of politeness but the debate itself is extremely rude to only one side.  That side is not expected to take any kind of offense at all.

And it's a great principle.  If only we could apply it in reverse a bit more often, to see how well the required calmness prevails on the other side.

*To be honest, I often speculate (silently) about the childhoods of some vociferous misogynists out there, because of the few cases I happen to know in which the basis for the hatred of a whole gender is in the mother relationship.  Sorta like taking one's revenge on the whole world.  If that's the case, by the way, the person should seek therapy.  Whatever happened in one's childhood is no justification for spreading vengeance on the innocent later on.  We all are responsible for what we decide on such questions as adults.

But that has nothing at all to do with the Ferguson-Krugman exchange, of course.  

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Funny Feminist Stuff For Tuesday

This cartoon is very funny because it is so very true.

This rant about how hard it is to be a man, these days, is also pretty funny:

For most of American history an uneducated but hardworking man could get a job that would support him, his wife and a family. He might not be rich or have the best of the best, but he could get by. Since few women were educated or able to earn a good living, their surest path to success was to find a man who could provide for them. This led to an implicit arrangement: The woman stayed home, took care of the kids and the house, and treated the man as the king of the castle. In return, he was expected to work as much as necessary to provide for his family.
The writer pines for those days when men were the rulers of their wives and then were treated as the king of the castle.  He doesn't seem to note that the system was extremely unsatisfactory for those  women he sees as essentially being bought in that implicit arrangement.  Besides, that whole argument is rubbish.  Most women have always worked, on the family firm, in factories, in the family shop and so on.

The piece also has funny stuff about violence and Ramboism and other similar essential markers of masculinity.  What's sad about it is that the system which the writer desires would offer the men on the lower rungs of the totem pole only the promise that they would be treated like the king of the castle at home, even if they were treated like serfs at work. (Hmm.  An interesting connection to pursue to explain why the right-wingers are both pro-corporations and anti-women's-rights.)

But the strongest impression I got from that piece was one of entitlement.  The writer expected to become the king of the castle one day.  I don't think I have ever assumed that I would just easily find a partner who would worship me like that, and I don't think most people have had that feeling of entitlement.  It's probably that which makes the guy so very angry about everything.  After all, he was promised!

Now he may actually have to work on how to become a better partner for a woman.  Gasp, he might even have to participate in the chores at home if he wants to find a partner.

Divorce, Iowa-Style?

Republicans in Iowa are proposing to make divorce more difficult for people who have children under eighteen:

Republican lawmakers in Iowa's House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would make it more difficult for a married couple with children to get a divorce. A subcommittee debated the bill Monday, Radio Iowa reported.
From Radio Iowa's report:
Under the proposed legislation, parents with kids under the age of 18 could not get a no-fault divorce. Instead, they’d have to show a spouse was guilty of adultery, had been sent to prison on a felony conviction, had physically or sexually abused someone in the family, or had abandoned the family for at least a year.
According to the report, state Rep. Tedd Gassman (R) said during the debate that he is worried about the negative effects of divorce on children. Gassman said his daughter recently got a divorce.
“There’s a 16-year-old girl in this whole mix now," he said. "Guess what? What are the possibilities of her being more promiscuous? What are the possibilities of all these other things surrounding her life that a 16-year-old girl, with hormones raging, can get herself into?”
Something unsavory about the Gassman comment.  I don't think talking about his own granddaughter that way is appropriate at all, and his focus on her possible sexuality also smells off to me.  If I was the girl I'd never talk to that particular grandpa again.

Which neatly segues into my next comment:  Sometimes married partners who hate each other wage constant warfare in the house, whether the children are present or not.  To grow up under those circumstances can be somewhat similar to growing up in a war zone.   But the list of "legitimate" reasons for divorce in that list do not cover that case at all.

The problem with many of the  studies of the impact of divorce on children is this: 

The proper comparison is not to children growing up in well-functioning "intact" families.  The proper comparison is to families where the adult partners have the same problems but choose not to divorce.  Everyone agrees that children from happy families do better (or at least no worse) than children from quarreling and unhappy families.  But happy couples are not contemplating divorce in the first place.

The best approach for reducing divorce is educating the young (before they are married)  about relationships and teaching them how to choose a good match and how to solve disagreements when they crop up.  Mostly the Republican approach seems to be to assume that all families are wonderful and then to demand that people  must be locked up inside them if they are not wonderful.

Monday, March 04, 2013

On Leaning-In And Sheryl Sandberg. Or Leaning-Away.

Sheryl Sandberg,  Facebook’s chief operating officer, has written a book about what she calls leaning-in for women who have some power at work, as opposed to dropping out or staying silent, I assume.  Assertiveness, asking for what one needs, and so on.

This book and the associated ideas are a fervent topic of debate in many feminist circles

The reason why I have not written about any of that is that I want to be contrarian is that I've heard  the book is hard to get hold of so I never actually tried to get a review copy.  Also, I'm writing my own book.   Sorta leaning away.

Those are also the reasons why I haven't participated in the debates about the book.  It's tough to be anal-retentive (and lazy) in this fast-moving world, even if you are a  goddess and don't actually eat anything but monsters.*

Anyway. Anna Holmes has written a piece about the problems created by that need to comment on everything at lightning-speed and the fact that the book isn't very available for review purposes.  Or that the time is too short to read the book if it is available, given the 24/7 news cycle. 

Or perhaps because the topic is one of those on which different feminists have opposite takes, given that the vast majority of women in the work force, just as the vast majority of men in the work force, have little power to personally lean in (though men probably have a bit more power in that direction, what with the assertive male gender norm)  and so a book about the need to lean in might offer a gourmet recipe to those who can't afford to buy food.

Or perhaps not.  The point is that what Sandberg says is in the book.  Which is essentially pre-advertised before its actual publication date.  The sales of the book probably benefit from all the debates and arguments, of course.  It's the debates and arguments themselves that get muddied by the scarcity of review copies.

This problem of speed and the resulting inaccuracy is  a topic I face daily because I'm writing on how research on women gets reported, so Anna's piece has wider relevance than just the Lean-In proposal.

And opposed to many other problems I write about on this blog, this particular annoyance does have an easy solution: 

Make it a rule not to publish and advertise some study or book when it's hard to get hold of.  It's bad in the field of research (incorrect results get published and the corrections go by unnoticed because they happen too late) and it's bad in the field of opinion writing if the actual opinions cannot be scrutinized.  The discussion begins with the first mention, and there's no real time to equip oneself with the needed facts. 

Of course those who summarize research or discuss new books or studies must also do their bit and read the stuff.
*The furious rate of the news-as-opinions business makes it really tough to be as slow as molasses in January in one's thinking.  You don't get hired to write on some well-paying (hah!) website but have to keep eating the lower quality monsters in loneliness and isolation.

Why can't I stay serious with a serious topic?  That's probably the real reason why I'm not paid humongous amounts for these words of wisdom.

An Odd Coincidence: Mark Sandford and Empathy

The coincidence is with the just-for-fun post I wrote on Friday about the need for an empathy pill.  Ed Kilgore writes about this article on Mark Sanford, an American politician who went through a marital infidelity scandal of more than ordinary proportions.  He is now returning to politics.  The quote that matters:

Wherever possible, Sanford steered his answers toward his own difficulties. At one point, he began talking about the importance of empathy. “Unless you’ve felt pain at some level of life, whether it’s self-imposed or otherwise, I don’t think you have the same level of empathy for people who have gone through some level of suffering,” Sanford said. “I empathize with people at a level that I never did before in part because of some pain in my own life.”

Empathy is a dominant theme of Sanford’s campaign, and it came up in my own conversations with him. “I would argue, and again I’m not recommending the curriculum to my worst enemy, but if one fails publicly at something, there’s a new level of empathy toward others that could not have been there before,” he told me.

When I asked Sanford how that new empathy had changed his views on public policy—whether it had made him, for instance, more inclined to support public-assistance programs he’s long denounced as unnecessary—he said it had not. “Convictions are convictions,” he explained. His empathy is for other public figures recovering from sex scandals and personal humiliations. “I used to open the paper and think, How did this person do that? Now it’s all, But by the grace of God go I.”

That's one way of learning empathy, of course.   But it sounds fairly low-level for someone of his age.

Though I'm sure that he feels that limited type of empathy.  Which makes me think of something related:

I think there is a difference between the intellectual "feeling" of empathy and the emotional "feeling" of empathy inside our heads.  I don't really have proper words for how the difference feels but I've "felt" both types.  The closer some situation is to our own experiences, the easier the emotional empathy becomes.  But everyone should be able to figure out the intellectual "feeling."