Saturday, May 04, 2013

On Suicide Statistics

This post is because the news about increases in the US suicide rates among certain age groups which have traditionally not been the focus of those who research suicide.  But it is ultimately going to be about another aspect of suicide.

First, it is pretty clear (from earlier studies) that bad economic times increase suicide rates.  The current or recent economic slump,  combined with various types of belt-tightening initiatives in many states and the general austerity policies are probably the reason for this:

More Americans now die of suicide than from car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disturbing statistic that some experts say points to the true depths of the US economic crisis.

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among US citizens between the ages of 35 to 64 soared by about 30 per cent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, a jump from 13.7.

In 2010, there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Although suicide has been traditionally viewed as a problem among the youth and elderly, the recent study, published in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows a marked rise in the number of suicides among middle-aged men and women.

The suicide rate for men aged 35–64 years jumped 27.3 per cent, from 21.5 to 27.3 per 100,000, while the rate for women increased 31.5 per cent, from 6.2 to 8.1.

Among the male population, the greatest increases were among those aged 50–54 years and 55–59 years, (49.4 per cent, from 20.6 to 30.7, and 47.8 per cent, from 20.3 to 30.0 respectively). Among females, suicide rates tended to increase with age. The largest percentage increase in suicide rate was observed among women aged 60–64 years (59.7 per cent, from 4.4 to 7.0).

Men were more likely to take their own lives than women. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.
Bad economic times cause many of us tightrope walkers to fall.  If nobody grabs us in time or if someone is busily cutting away the safety net below, we will fall.  That's how it goes.

Translated into less poetic terms,  the loss of a job can mean not only the loss of money for food and heating and other necessities of life but also the loss of self-esteem, the loss of seeing oneself as a worthwhile person and not just as someone taking up oxygen.

This problem is particularly acute when politicians find nothing as fascinating as how best to unravel the safety nets people depend in old age and when the health insurance which would make seeing a mental health care professional becomes one of those luxuries the unemployed simply cannot afford.

But more permanent effects are also at work behind those statistics.  Men, on average, commit more suicides than women do, and several researchers believe that this may be a consequence of the definitions of masculinity which make asking for help or relying for support a sissy thing to do.

Likewise, our self-esteem is more likely to suffer if we have staked our value on one aspect only.  Thus, women are more likely to commit suicides if they live in cultures where the way women's value is defined is through married motherhood alone.  Under such circumstances anything going wrong inside the family has drastic effects, and having children outside the marriage can be so stigmatizing as to make suicide the only exit one can imagine.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to commit suicides if they live in individualistic cultures which define their value by how good a job they can hold, by the size of their bank account and by their ability to never, ever ask for help.

Or so I think, based on quite limited research.  Other factors also matter in understanding why men are more likely to commit suicide in most countries* than women:  Differences in alcoholism and in access to firearms.

Men are more likely to use firearms and women poisons.  The former act quickly and have high fatality rates, the latter are slow-acting and offer time for someone to intervene.  Alcohol consumption has been found to correlate with the rate of suicides in some countries such as Russia where men are more likely to drink than women.

Certain types of Men's Rights Activists argue that the higher rate of male suicides should be taken into account when judging whether women or men are more oppressed.  I have never understood the thesis behind this argument, though it must somehow be based on the assumption that men kill themselves because the traditional culture is so harsh on them or on some odd type of essentialism about whether it's better to be born male or female (in which case one should also address the fact that men don't have to menstruate or to give birth and so on, but none of that is about feminism).

But if it is the rigid way masculinity has been traditionally defined, feminism should be the answer, given that feminism wants to make gender roles less rigid and to expand the allowed spheres of activity for both sexes.  This, however, is not the explanation ever offered.  Rather, it is the exact reverse:  Because being dominant in the society is so bad for men, women should stop whining and accept their more comfortable roles.

Given this background, I was a little shocked when I found** recent (2010) statistics (pdf) on the US suicide rates (expressed per 100,000 individuals in the relevant group):

The rate for white males (men and boys) is, indeed, a very high 22.6.  The rate for white females (women and girls) is only about a fourth of that at 5.9.

But here's what I was also shocked about:  The rate for black males was 8.7 and for black females 1.8.

The overall*** rate for Latinos in the US was 5.3, the rate for Native Americans 11.0 and the rate for Pacific Islanders/Asians 6.2.

Thus, while there clearly is a gender difference in the suicide rates among the white and black segments of the population, there is very large ethnic or racial difference, too.  The rate for black men is only about a third of the rate for white men, for example, and the rate for black women is also about a third of the rate for white women.

How to interpret this?  If we used the MRA mold to turn out an explanation we probably would have to argue that the higher suicide among white men is the price they pay for being dominant in the society?  That, in turn, could be used to insist that the other racial groups should be pleased with not having to share any of that.

I think that is utter rot,  and so is the original MRA argument about women and men. What's right is to fix the high suicide rate of white men, as well as to lower the rates of suicides for all at-risk groups, and the real solutions are found in those safety nets or support.

Human beings are herd animals.  We should all talk to the steer next to us, we should learn that asking for help in dire situations is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness, that the help received that way can one day be returned (but not if you are no longer around), that mental health care professionals are intended to serve us in our times of need, that all individuals have many aspects of value, that nobody should put all their dreams into one basket and on and on.  Community, in short.  That's one of its major functions.

Let's return to the initial news about the economic depression and increased suicide rates among certain groups of Americans.  We failed these individuals as a community.  Economists failed them.  The government failed them.  The financial and housing markets failed them.  But their deaths should be counted in the overall costs of the depression and its aftermath.
*China is the main exception to this.  Women in rural China have a very high rate of suicide, usually carried out by taking weed killers.  I have not been able to find out if those weed killers act quickly or if there are no good treatments to stop their effect.  Given that one reason for the higher male completion rate of suicide has to do with the rapid and often-fatal aspect of guns,  looking into that question seemed worthwhile.

The mention of suicide completion rates links to the so-called gender paradox in suicide:  Women attempt suicide at least as often as men but succeed in it less often.  Why that is the case is unclear, but the slower action of poisons, women's preferred weapon, may be part of the explanation.  It is also possible that poison suicides are more often classified as, say, accidental overdoses than suicides.  Finally, women may be more likely to attempt parasuicide than men.

**As far as I can tell, this data set seems legit.  But you should be aware of the fact that I didn't spend a lot of time checking it.

***I was unable to find this information separately by sex.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Things I Will Never Understand* About The Gun Culture

Those are many, but these two I truly don't understand:


City-sponsored gun buybacks are about to be a thing of the past in Arizona’s largest city.
On Monday, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill into law that spares guns turned in during government-run buybacks from being destroyed. Instead, the law requires the guns to be sold to licensed gun dealers.
Now, a police official in Phoenix has told TPM that a series of buyback events scheduled to start Saturday will probably be the city’s last. Phoenix scheduled the buybacks following the December elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The last of the events, scheduled for May 18, will be held weeks before the ban goes into effect.
“Obviously a gun buyback event is an effort to reduce the amount of guns that are out in the community,” Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos told TPM. “And if we were to get involved in a gun buyback event and then resell those to an authorized dealer … [that] again might, you know, defeat the purpose.”
Martos said the police department still plans to have the guns destroyed, despite the spirit of the coming law. Guns that were stolen or are still needed for police investigations won’t be destroyed, he said.
You can't kill guns because "guns don't kill people, people kill people" (using the slogan of the NRA)? 


As Stephanie Sparks cleaned the kitchen, her 5-year-old son, Kristian, began playing with a rifle he was given last year. She stepped out onto the front porch, poured grease out of a frying pan for the dogs and “heard the gun go off,” a Kentucky coroner said.
Authorities said the boy had fatally shot his 2-year-old sister, Caroline, in the chest.
In rural southern Kentucky, far removed from the national debate over gun control, where some children get their first guns even before they start first grade, the accident stunned the community.
Kristian’s rifle was kept in a corner of the mobile home, and the family didn’t realize a bullet had been left in it, Cumberland County Coroner Gary White said.
“Down in Kentucky where we’re from, you know, guns are passed down from generation to generation,” White said. “You start at a young age with guns for hunting and everything.”
What is more unusual than a child having a gun, he said, is “that a kid would get shot with it.”
In this case, the rifle was made by a company that sells guns specifically for children — “My first rifle” is the slogan — in colors ranging from plain brown to hot pink to royal blue to multi-color swirls.
That story is heart-breakingly awful.

But what both of these seem to demonstrate is the mythical role of guns in certain parts of the US.  Guns stand for something different than what they actually are, and that something different is so valuable that even dead children do not change those basic values.
*I use the verb "to understand" in a different sense here from intellectual understanding.  I don't have the background to emotionally feel the reasons for such rigid adherence to guns, and thus I cannot really "get" the gun culture.  I don't know whether fear streams through the gun proponents when they read about the need for background checks, I don't know what that fear is about and so I cannot really know what alternatives would work to reduce gun violence.

Today's Quote About The Young

Here it is:

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

That is attributed to Socrates.  I have read similar views from the era of the Roman empire.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Dead As A Doornail. Feminism is.

Rush Limbaugh tells us that.  This is one of those days when I see the humor in everything and I really loved his little narcissistic boast:  How he single-handedly (not sure what he was doing with the other hand) destroyed the feminist movement in the United States:

Rush loves women so much that he has had to have four wives!  That's one guy who truly and clearly gets it, I think.  Whatever that "it" might be.

The source of Rush's little speech is a poll the Washington Times (a heavily subsidized loss-producing conservative newspaper) discussed on one of its blogs.  I haven't looked at the survey they mention, but the very end of that blog post states:

“When given a neutral dictionary definition of feminism, as ‘someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes,’ 57 percent of Americans proudly proclaim themselves feminists,” the poll concludes.

That's still a somewhat depressing number, of course, because it makes me wonder what kinds of values the remaining 43% of Americans have.  But that the majority of Americans actually ARE feminists is very different from Rush's ode to himself.

The Need For Better Science Popularizations

Is severe.  Hence the news about a program closing is disheartening.  And no, giving undergraduates more science writing courses is not the same thing as a graduate program in it.

The first draft of my "book" on how research into gender and parenting is popularized is finished, and if the book has one general message, it is that we need better science writing from journalists. 

By the way, the manuscript weights 1lb 6oz!  On a kitchen scale.  Doesn't that make me sound involved in a feminine activity?

The Chest Hair Problem

What follows is a parody of this article.

In case you haven't heard it, the hairyfying initiative is affecting men in the UK.  Some men spend thousands of pounds having hair planted on their chests.

This could be a passing fad.  After all, Western art has always preferred bare-chested men.  Think of the statue of David.

To be sure, the bare male chest is subjective,  even silly, given that no two men have exactly the same number of chest hairs.  But artists, poets and chest-obsessed women alike have been drawn to this ideal for centuries.  The Platonic Pectoral Idea.*

That's not to say some women and men aren't turned on by hairy chests.  They clearly have an audience, just not in the mainstream.

“I don’t think the  gorilla will ever be in vogue,” says Cruella Feminazi, a British-born aesthete and creative director. “Like any good design, it’s all about balance,” she says.

Bare chests may not be de rigeur at the moment, but there’s something about the statue of David and the glistening chests of famous actors that never gets old.   Indeed, we have been ogling bare chests recently, perhaps because they are revealing, muscular, gloriously shiny and both proud and defiant of our voyeuristic gaze.
Credit to this term goes to ReadMeGravatar at Eschaton.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Stuff To Read on Gender, With Some Echidne Analysis

Or stuff I could have written about had I gotten up earlier!

First, these stories are a way to show the gnat bites:  The way views and ideas about women and men and the associated experiences  accumulate in tiny gnat bites, so small that any crazy feminazi blogger who writes about them is told that she is making mountains out of mole-hills and should focus on more important stuff. 

What that criticism ignores is the number of those gnat bites.  Most of us would look like Swiss cheese after a few decades of living if each bite left a visible hole.

Second, this study about the increasing age-adjusted mortality rates of women in many American counties is very, very important.  I'm not including it in this list because I don't have time to write about or because of divine laziness, but simply due to the fact that I don't have the data I need to address it properly.  For one summary, look here.

I have read the study itself and know what it found.  Here is the abstract:

Researchers increasingly track variations in health outcomes across counties in the United States, but current ranking methods do not reflect changes in health outcomes over time. We examined trends in male and female mortality rates from 1992–96 to 2002–06 in 3,140 US counties. We found that female mortality rates increased in 42.8 percent of counties, while male mortality rates increased in only 3.4 percent. Several factors, including higher education levels, not being in the South or West, and low smoking rates, were associated with lower mortality rates. Medical care variables, such as proportions of primary care providers, were not associated with lower rates. These findings suggest that improving health outcomes across the United States will require increased public and private investment in the social and environmental determinants of health—beyond an exclusive focus on access to care or individual health behavior.
This is the crucial part of the study conclusions:

Mortality rates are falling in most US counties, but we found a large number of counties with no reductions in female mortality rates during the study period. We identified a number of factors most strongly associated with mortality change, including education levels, the region the county was located in, and smoking rates. Our results underscore the complicated policy reality that there is no single silver bullet for population health improvement. Investments in all determinants of health—including health care, public health, health behaviors, and residents’ social and physical environments—will be required.
 Bolds are mine.

The difficulty of addressing this study and its importance hinges on the lack of certain pieces of data which really are needed.  One of them the authors could have supplied but I can't find it, and that's the simple numbers.   How many women live in those counties?  When we are told that roughly half of all US counties show increasing female death rates, does it mean that the same percentage of US women find their rates rising? 

That's not the correct interpretation, because then the overall female mortality rates would look different.  My guess is that the counties we are talking about are low-population counties.  But I still want to know the overall numbers affected.

The second bit of data we really need are internal migration rates.  One reason for the findings could be that the women who leave those areas are the ones with the highest life expectancy rates and that the women who stay behind are the ones with more health problems.  If these counties are mostly rural ones, women would have a higher exit rate than men, given the male-dominated aspects of agriculture.  Or perhaps not.  But this data is very important for understanding what is happening, and I guess it doesn't exist.

The above paragraph may sound academic.  But it's not.  It is very important.  If the reason for the differences in the mortality rates is that healthier women have moved elsewhere, then the interpretation of the rates is very different than if the story is that something is affecting the mortality rates of all women in those areas.

I had a few other problems with the aggregate character of the data (it's county-level, not individual) and the fact that many of the included variables most likely correlate with each other in the data set, so it can be tricky to argue that education matters more than, say, income, given that the two tend to move together.  Likewise, the study found race not significant in the regression analyses, even though we know that the average life expectancy rates differ quite a bit by race.  The reason for that insignificance could be that the variables measuring geography (American south) and income capture any race differences.

Third, here's more about the discussion of Wikipedia and what happens to women authors (read both links and in the order shown here). 

I find it interesting and wonder to what extent the anarchic nature of Wikipedia editing contributes to the scarcity of female editors.  If I had to spend hours at those internal cafes defending my editing against MRA guys, say, you'd have to pay me.  Hrmh.  Just reminding that there is no free lunch, even for goddesses.

Fourth, and finally, good news:  Saudi Arabia has launched its first domestic abuse campaign (Some Things Can't Be Covered).

And one example of a young woman who is both interested in science and good at it.  To remind all those gender essentialists about the existence of such creatures.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Time Is Running Out For Beatriz

If  you haven't signed the petition yet, please do so today.

From the petition:

Beatriz wants to live. She's 22 years old and the mother of an infant, but the 18 week pregnancy she's carrying is killing her -- right now as you read this -- and the government of El Salvador has refused to permit an exception to their abortion ban to save her life.
The fetus Beatriz is carrying is anencephalic; it has no brain and won't survive birth even if her health allowed her to carry to full term. More to the point, Beatriz has lupus, worsened by a kidney malfunction, and it's very dangerous for her to be pregnant. But under El Salvador's abortion ban, both Beatriz and any medical staff involved in providing a therapeutic abortion would face criminal charges, carrying penalties as high as 50 years in jail for her and 12 years in jail for her doctors.
Both El Salvador's Minister of Health and Attorney General for Human Rights support allowing an exception to save Beatriz' life, yet the Supreme Court has delayed making this literally life and death decision. Now this impoverished young mother has entered early stage renal failure as her pregnancy steadily destroys her kidneys.
Sign now to stand with Beatriz' husband and infant son today in asking the Salvadoran government to allow her doctors to save her life and their future together as a family.

Why Are Women So Mean?

So asks a (Shine?)  article in its title:

Female Blogger Weight-Shames Cheerleader—Why Are Women So Mean?
The article goes on to describe various cases in which a female writer or commentator has been mean to other women, usually about their weight.  It then asks:
Where's the sisterhood?

Mmm.  Here we are, stuck on this crummy planet, a species that is pretty good at warfare and not at all bad with ordinary murdering.  Most of that is not  done by the mean women.  But you don't often see articles asking why men are so mean to other men.

The point is not to initiate another round of gender wars, my dears.  The point is that humans can be both really nasty and also quite wonderful.  Sometimes it's the same human being alternating between nastiness and niceness.

What makes that title weird is the singling out of women as the nasty ones.  The likely reason is in the traditional expectation that women should be nice, sweet and gentle.  When you add to that the feminist meme of sisterhood, articles of the kind I linked to are all about "gotcha!"  Even if what you write about is pretty small potatoes compared to what's happening in Syria, say.

The linked article isn't worth a lot of analysis, but notice that the thesis (about women being mean)  consists of digging up articles which support that view while ignoring all the articles where women do act in "sisterhood" or where female writers defend other women.

Then there is the subtler hint that the body-shaming done by the quoted writers tells us something important, gives us some new information.  Perhaps the idea is that it is other women who are the nastiest on their co-women (no such word, I know)?

But anyone who has read enough about celebrities in the media knows the pleasure people get from criticizing famous people, and many of those enjoying the stories are women.  That the criticisms are about the looks or weight of the female celebrities (or praise about their baby bumps) is because those are still the traditional fields for women to compete in. 

I'd like to turn this thing upside down and point out that it's astonishing how much cooperation exists between human beings, both between women and between men and across the gender aisle.  Humans are both competitive and cooperative, and women are not excused from that categorization. 

We are just a whole lot less comfortable with the idea of female nastiness than with the idea of male nastiness.

I decided to keep this post on the topic of women's humongous nastiness.  It could have equally been on the topic of body-shaming.  Or on the more nebulous connections between the goal of gender equality and the need for women to be in some ways "better" humans to deserve equality.  Or, of course, on the futility about writing on articles which are constructed to be sensational to maximize clicks.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Teaching Good Work Habits?

This story is almost a week old.  But I'm always either too early or too late, so what the heck:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so should we make little Johnny work for his free meal at school? Even if he misses class?

West Virginia state Del. Ray Canterbury (R-Greenbrier) (Bob Bird/AP)
“I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it,” said Ray Canterbury, a Republican from Greenbrier and a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, during debate over Senate Bill 663, also known as the Feed to Achieve Act.
The bill — the first of its kind in the nation — would create a partnership between private donations and public funds to make breakfast and lunch available for free to every student, kindergarten through high school senior, in West Virginia. It’s based on a model program in Mason County that’s improved attendance and decreased discipline problems, according to the school district’s food service director. 
Free meals are provided through the National School Lunch Program to students whose family’s income is 130 percent or less of the federal poverty guidelines. For this past school year, that means a family of four with an annual income of $29,965 qualifies. Children with household incomes of 185 percent or less of the poverty guidelines can get reduced-price meals under the program, which — I was surprised to learn — was established in 1946 by the National School Lunch Act. 
West Virginia’s Feed to Achieve Act wants to go beyond that by making sure no child goes hungry at school, but Canterbury repeated the theme of “there is no such thing as a free lunch” during the delegates’ discussion of the bill, which had passed the state Senate unanimously.
Canterbury clarifies his intentions:

Canterbury added that he thinks free lunches will undermine children's work ethics, saying the bill is "teaching students they don't have to work hard."
Here's the thing:  I think the idea of children being required to help some at schools is a good one.  But hardly any child works for his or her lunch in this country, including those who have wealthy parents.  So why single out only the children who have poor parents?  Good, age-appropriate work habits are something schools should teach all children.

If that teaching is given to only some children the system breeds stigma.  It also fails the wealthier children!

The UConn New Husky Logo Meme

Content Note:  Strong Rape Imagery At The End of This Post

There's a  good reason to ignore Rush Limbaugh and his misogynistic mutterings, and I mostly succeed in doing so.  But this particular story, about the new Husky Dog logo for the Huskies, the University of Connecticut sports teams, is worth covering, because it shows nicely how anti-feminist memes are sired and reared.

The backstory, as journalists say:  A University of Connecticut senior, Carolyn Luby, wrote an open letter to the university president, Susan Herbst, about the sports teams and the mascot.   The letter lists problems with the university athletes, including arrests of individual athletes and problems with the academic achievement of the men's basketball team.  It then states:

Instead of giving these problematic aspects of male athletic peer culture at UConn a second look or a giving the real face of athletics a true makeover, it appears that the focus of your administration is prioritizing the remodeling of the fictional face of the Husky Logo. Instead of communicating a zero tolerance atmosphere for this kind of behavior, increasing or vocalizing support to violence against women prevention efforts on campus in the face of such events, or increasing support to student run programs that seek to work with athletes on issues of violence as well as academic issues, it would appear that your administration is more interested in fostering consumerism and corporatization than education and community. Another example of this shift in priorities can be seen in the current administrations selection of the new logo — a selection made with no involvement from or consultation with the normal, everyday, non-Olympian student body:
Contrary to speculation, the Husky will not appear to be mean, snarling, or capable of frightening small children! Instead he will be rendered as the sleek, beautiful animal a real Husky truly is.
Well President Herbst, the new Husky logo may not be capable of frightening small children, but the face of real life UConn athletics is certainly capable of frightening college women.
It is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’ This is a streamlined, fighting dog, and I cannot wait for it to be on our uniforms and court.~Geno Auriemma stated about the new logo change.
I  wouldn't have written that letter (at least in that way), but then I'm no longer a college senior and I know how the Internet works in cases like this.

And how does the Internet work in these cases?  It picks the new Husky logo out of the rest of the story and then states that these crazy feminists (or at least one, and soon many more) are now accusing cartoon characters of causing rape!

The Barstool Sports site (known for soft-porn pictures of women) posts the letter and this evaluation:
I don’t know about you but after looking at that new Husky logo literally all I can think about is sexually assaulting somebody.  Just RAPE on repeat in the back of my brain.  It’s just so strong…and powerful…I was never a scumbag piece of shit before but the hypnotizing eyes of that cartoon wolf dog is really swaying me big time. 
Don't read the comments to that story, unless you wish to learn about Internet misogyny.  But if you do wish to do that, you might find it interesting that I've seen worse comments on that site in the past.

So where are we?  The debate has now been refined as about the new Husky dog logo, not about the rest of Luby's letter.  And then our Rush joins in:

RUSH: There is a new logo for the Huskies.  University of Connecticut sports teams.  The new logo promotes rape, says one student.
"The new logo for the University of Connecticut’s sports teams is a terrifying husky dog that calls to mind images of sexual assault, says one student."  This is on the Daily Caller website.  "The new logo was unveiled last week, receiving mixed-to-negative reviews from UConn fans who preferred the older, cuter husky dog.  But one student went much further, criticizing the new, meaner logo for being a pro-rape symbol. In an open letter to UC President Susan Herbst, self-described feminist student Carolyn Luby wrote that the redesigned team logo will intimidate women and empower rape culture."
One student, University of Connecticut, upset with the new husky logo.  "UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemma said the logo 'is looking right through you and saying, "Do not mess with me." This is a streamlined, fighting dog, and I cannot wait for it to be on our uniforms and court.'  In response, Luby wrote, 'What terrifies me about the admiration of such traits is that I know what it feels like to have a real-life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot "mess with them." And I know I am not alone.'"
Folks, we're talking about a cartoon character.  We're talking about a drawing.  We're talking about a logo, an icon, that will appear on basketball uniforms, maybe on the football helmet.  The self-described feminist student Carolyn Luby said there were two sexual assaults at UConn involving athletes in the past year.  The logo and the teams it represents are menacing to women. "The face of real-life UConn athletics is certainly capable of frightening college women."
Limbaugh believes that this is the start of something bigger.  Probably a feminist attempt to kill college football and to take political correctness to laughable extremes?  Something of that sort, because he then spends quite a bit time showing us that frightening rape logo.  Here's the picture from his site:

If you're watching, I want to show you this cartoon of the new mascot, the redesigned logo of the husky at UConn that promotes rape, and you see what you think.

 See how it all works?  That's just a cuddly face of a Husky, but we can't have it, because one student thinks it promotes rape:

CALLER:  Do we know for sure that this is a male Husky?
RUSH:  We don't.  But the female student does. That is the point.  One female student saw the new logo.  It's a drawing.  It is a cartoon figure, "Oh, my God, I feel like I'm gonna be raped."  And it made the news.  If it weren't in the Daily Caller, I wouldn't be talking about it.  The whole country knows about it now.  This is way beyond The Daily Caller, so now it's out there.  The new UConn icon, the new UConn logo, promotes rape.  What do you think they're gonna do at UConn?  They'll change it.  You know damn well they will.
But if you read Luby's letter carefully,  her point is that focusing on a new logo for the sports teams is misplaced when there are serious problems, both criminal and academic, that should have been attended to first.  And what she finds frightening is "the face of real-life UConn athletics."  The other references in her piece appear to be direct quotes from other people.

Soraya Chemaly writes about wolf images, available on the Internet, which aren't that removed from the new Husky logo.  I have no idea if Carolyn Luby had seen any of those images or how commonly viewed they are, but after reading Soraya's piece I spent a little time looking for such pro-rape images (probably intended as "jokes"), and these do look a fair bit like the new UConn logo (shown first for comparison):

I stress (in a very booming voice) that I AM NOT making an argument about the new Husky logo being in any way related to those courage-wolf pictures, and I'm QUITE SURE that its creators had no idea such images exist.  I also have NO IDEA how many people are aware of the insanity-wolf pictures or the courage-wolf pictures or if Carolyn Luby had ever seen them, for instance.

The point I'm trying to make is rather different:  When people's life experiences vary, the meaning of various images can also vary.  A swastika, for example, had a completely different meaning before the Nazis adopted it, and it still has a different meaning in some cultures.  A cartoon-character logo for a sports team COULD mean different things for different groups of people.  To insist that it should be interpreted the way Rush Limbaugh's peer group interprets it is no more logical than to insist that it should have other interpretations.

But that is not what the original open letter was about, really.