Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Echidne Thoughts

This blog is still the gateway drug to feminism, the bowl of dry-scientific-granola-with-a-sprinkling of cyanide and I'm still worse than a thousand Hitlers and far too much a goody-two-shoes.

Whether there's any usefulness in that I don't know.  But as long as I have some fun!

This mood is linked to one of my favorite Finnish poems, by Aaro Hellaakoski, Hauen Laulu (The Pike's Song).  It's wonderful in Finnish but not really translatable, at least by me.  The gist, in English:

From its wet home
the pike climbed the tree
to sing

When through the gray clouds
the rising sun glimmered
and on the lake woke up
the laughing wavelets, to race

Rose the pike to the top of the spruce tree
to bite on the red cone

It may have heard or smelled
or tasted the end of the cone
all dew-wet from the morning ---
such unspeakable greatness

when opening wide
its bony mouth
its giant jaw bone

such a wild-heavy a psalm it sang
that the birds went silent
as if the weight of the waters
had swept over
and the cold lap of loneliness.

Bullying Beats Anti-Bullying Programs?

That's what I read here:

Anti-bullying initiatives have become standard at schools across the country, but a new UT Arlington study finds that students attending those schools may be more likely to be a victim of bullying than children at schools without such programs.
The findings run counter to the common perception that bullying prevention programs can help protect kids from repeated harassment or physical and emotional attacks.
"One possible reason for this is that the students who are victimizing their peers have learned the language from these anti-bullying campaigns and programs," said Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT Arlington and lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Criminology.
Even the title of the summary is all about that: 

Youth More Likely to Be Bullied at Schools With Anti-Bullying Programs

The writing carefully avoids mentioning explicit causality, but the impression the reader gets is that the anti-bullying programs don't work.

And that can be the case.  However, if you read through the actual study you will find a different reason:  The data the study uses is cross-sectional, meaning that all the researchers can compare are data from the same time period.  So schools with anti-bullying programs can be compared with schools which don't have them, and that's the comparison the summary talks about.

Why is that a problem?  Because we don't know if the schools with anti-bullying programs had the same levels of bullying as other schools, before the programs were introduced.  Perhaps the schools with programs introduced them explicitly because bullying was so bad?  Perhaps the levels of bullying in those schools now are lower than they were before the programs?  Or perhaps not.  The point is that we cannot tell, because the researchers didn't have data over time, only data from one harvesting of information.

Yet it makes sense that schools with or without such programs might differ in other important ways, such as the level of reported bullying.

A second (though smaller) problem is that having anti-bullying programs can make students more aware of the fact that they are being bullied, because it gives the language for expressing bullying.  It's a bit like more people reporting rape after society changes its views on rape and punishes it more severely, even if rape rates are not rising.

I should note that the study itself covers lots of ground and does point out the lack of time-series data.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yellen vs. Summers As A Metaphor

Atrios posted on the nomination of the next chief of Federal Reserve.  The forerunners have been defined as Lawrence Summers and Janet Yellen.  Summers looks to be the one the president prefers.

The big difference between the two is in gender.  Yellen has ladybits, Summers has talked about the ladybits in the past, wondering about the role of biology in women's lesser presence in the STEM field.  So the choice between two professionals also lends itself to all sorts other choices, a murky underground where things slither and creep and crawl, and a great opportunity for brawls about gender and such.

But that's not what Atrios wrote about (that was me).  He pointed out this:

One reason the (likely) failure to nominate Yellen as the next Fed Chief is such a disappointment is that it will miss an incredible opportunity to give the job to a woman for the first time. She has the experience. No one really denies she's qualified, except to suggest she's insufficiently bro-y. And these opportunities don't come up all the time. Due to historical extreme explicit discrimination against women, and existing barriers (including discrimination) big and small, fewer women rise up close enough to the top that getting the top job is realistic. It's reason enough to give her the job. It's an opportunity.

It is, I think, one reason for the disappointment of some Hillary Clinton supporters in 2008. While it hopefully happens more and more, at the moment the likelihood of women getting close enough to reach the top is just lower. One only has to look at the gender balance of governors and senators, the people who have a realistic shot at getting the nomination, to see this. Of course a similar issue existed for her main opponent at the time.

The way I always thought about such nominations in high places, from my feminist point of view, is that they serve to change ideas about what women (or minorities etc.) can do, that they widen the social gender norms, that they give us weapons against those who come and tell us that women (or blacks) are not good at anything to do with the command roles in the public sector and so on.  And mostly I think that approach is the correct one, given what has happened in many fields where the women were a curiosity in the past and where they now are just like the men in the fields, no better or worse.

For example, male medical school students used to fight tooth and nail against women's admittance in the nineteenth century England.   Now women can be physicians in all countries of the world, and one never hears the argument that women cannot cope in that job.  But without  being allowed to try a job, no evidence of that coping can come about.

Now juxtapose this argument with the more recent strand of feminism which suggests that women (or people of color) already close to the top of the hierarchy don't deserve any special push from feminists (or other social justice movements).  We should aim our effort at those who are truly suffering and work at the bottom rungs of the societal ladders only.

And there's truth in that, because of the relative levels of suffering.  But there's also truth in that work which tries to change societal norms, to reduce misogyny of a certain type, and sometimes that work requires paying attention to people who are already doing very well but who are treated in a  certain way because of their gender, race, sexual preference and so on.

So I'd prefer to have several arrows in my quiver, to talk and chew gum at the same time, to make a nice mess of metaphors.  One reason for that multiplicity of objectives is that the government matters and other institutions matter and that we want to have them representative of the population so that the specific concerns of different groups are fairly represented.  In my idealistic moments I think that may also help in the laws we need to work better lives for those who are poor and suffering.  In my more realistic movements I understand that those who have risen through the system to some extent must have the values of the system.

Those Discouraged Young Men Who Live in Their Parents' Basement

Something interesting from Pew Research on the possibility that young men are now so discouraged and effeminate because of feminism that they just live at home with their parents.  Probably in their basement, watching pron and playing computer games..

If that sounds odd to you, rest assured that I 'm not making the arguments up.  They are common among the end-of-men lot and crop up pretty regularly in the media.

Imagine my great surprise, then when I read this from Pew Research:

In 2012, Millennial males (40%) were more likely to live at home than Millennial females (32%).
This 8 percentage point gap in living at home is smaller than the 11-point gap evident in 1968.
The growing gender parity in likelihood of residing at home is especially pronounced among 18- to 24-year-olds. In 1968, 59% of male 18- to 24-year-olds lived at home (very similar to 2012). In contrast, in 1968 only 42% of females in that age group lived at home. So a 17 percentage point gender gap in living at home in 1968 has narrowed to a 9 percentage point gap in 2012 among 18- to 24-year-olds.
One factor that has contributed to the growing gender parity in living at home is the rise in the share of young women who go to college. (Goldin, Katz, and Kuziemko, 2006). In 1968, only 19.5% of 18- to 24-year-old females were enrolled in college in 1968, compared with 34% of their male peers. That ratio has since flipped; as of 2011, women were 6 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in college than men among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Bolds are mine.

I missed checking this out myself!  Hangs head in shame.

What's the point?  Young people are counted as living at home even if they live in a dormitory at college.  And it seems that even in 1968 more young men than young women "lived at home,"  meaning that they were either actually living at home with their parents or that they were studying at a college or a university and counted as living at home.

And the other point is that a gender gap which has narrowed over the long-run is being sold to us as a brand new gendered difference.  Some of the recent changes may have new causes (such as the change from early marriage to cohabitation and later marriage or just cohabitation), but the important thing is that young men were more likely to live at home even before feminists did any of their nasty work!

The lesson:  Always check the data, preferably in a time series format.

And let me rush to state that I'm not making fun of the reduced work opportunities of young men or of young women.  But that's an economic problem,  not a gender-politics problem.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Silly Stuff

Good book names:

Caressing the Hedgehog.  This would be a good name for a book about trying to be a social helper.

My Life As An Old Man.  I want to write that one, just because.

The Makers And The Takers.  This right-wing slogan can be turned around niftily.  For instance, who makes those delicious gourmet dinners at high-faluting restaurants and who eats them?  Or those yachts.  Who makes them and who sails them.   Who cleans those toilet and who uses them? 

That one could give us a whole library of books.

Ready, Steady, Fire!  The circular firing squads in politics.  Lots of short-term fun, lots of long-term suffering, those are.  But the friendly fire is a lot less frightening, for the perpetrators.

Patriarchy Is Dead. Long Live Patriarchy!

That's just me having fun with the title of this post.  I have so few pleasures in life.

The post is about Hanna Rosin's new post, to push her book about the End of Men towards higher sale numbers, I think.  It's a nice kick-in-the-overall-pants for all us feminazis in our academy ivory towers, the Fempire!

I love stuff like that, I do.  To be so powerful!  To be a goddess of all I survey!  And to find that the Evil Patriarchy Is Dead and that I should finally admit it and move to happier pastures of writing.

But I seldom use the term "patriarchy."  That's a bit of a dilemma.  So how about telling you all what Rosin argues in her post at the Slate's DoubleX, a sub-site intended for women and somewhat feminist women at that.  Quoth:

You would think that a book called The End of Men would be, prima facie, an insult to men. But one of the great surprises I’ve had while speaking about the book over the last year is how little resistance I have gotten from the aggrieved sex. Yes, I’ve been to a forum or two where dude-bros from the men’s rights movement accuse me of destroying American manhood. But most of the resistance to the idea that men have ceased to be the dominant sex has come from women—not from working-class women, who seem to find what I’m describing painfully familiar, if not totally obvious, but from women in the college, professional class.
There comes a point in nearly every book event I’ve done when a little feminist revolt stirs inside the crowd. I can feel it coming when an audience saves its whole-hearted applause for the first moment I mention a sin committed against the women of America—say, our appalling lack of paid maternity leave (which is appalling!). Or when a questioner quotes to me in a triumphant tone statistics about the tiny percentage of female CEOs, as if I had never heard them before.
Hmm.  Based on my wading in the really polluted MRA sites they hates Rosin as a feminazi, my precious, they hates her.  But never mind, because hatred is more likely to sell books than indifference, right?

And then there is this:

But that confessional approach only brought more ire. “Lucky for you that you have the luxury to agonize about your choices,” the young woman said. “What about the woman who picks up your trash after you leave at 5?”
This is when I knew I was dealing with some irrational attachment to the concept of unfair. For my book I’d interviewed plenty of women who might find themselves picking up the trash, likely as a second job after a full day of school or another job, or both, because their husbands—or, more likely, the fathers of their children—were out of work. My young interrogator might be annoyed to learn that many of those women who pick up the trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less. And they want the men in their lives to be happy. It’s elite feminists like my questioner and me who cling to the dreaded patriarchy just as he is walking out of our lives.

And this:

I understand that the big picture is not always reflected in women’s daily experience of life. Maybe a woman has an overbearing husband or a retrograde boss or just a lingering problem that has no name. But as a collective, it sometimes feels that women  look too closely at the spot right in front of us. This is a moment, unprecedented in history—and also pretty confusing—when young women who work how they want and have sex how they want may also quilt and can fruits. When working-class women who quietly leave the only steady paycheck on the kitchen table every week may still believe that a man is the God-ordained head of the household. So I want to tell these women who are seeing only oppression: Look around.

Which brings me back to the title I picked.  We are told that patriarchy is dead, when it comes to uppity educated and probably white women, and then we are told that working-class women really want patriarchy back.  Because their husbands are out of work.  But that's an odd way of offering a choice, isn't it?  Either you have a husband who is not working (and perhaps isn't doing anything in the house) or you can have patriarchy back and be taken care of.

Oppression, patriarchy.  The way Rosin frames her story is intended to be inflammatory, of course, because inflammatory sells books and brings bread on the table.  But it's completely possible to discuss the impact of gender, as it affects our relative position on those complicated societal power ladders based on class, race, gender, nepotism, religion, ethnicity etc etc without imputing hatred or oppression on any particular person.

The way Rosin avoids gender analysis is by comparing women with women, not with men.  Thus, rich and powerful women are better off than poor women.  The former can do almost anything, these days (with the exception of the military and many religions), whereas the latter are much more constrained by income and the local gender norms.

But remember those ladders.  It is quite possible for a rich white woman to be worse off than an otherwise similar rich white man.  And of course any unfairness she suffers isn't as painful as the worry over daily bread.  But then all the same arguments could me made in comparison between rich white men and poor white men or rich white men and rich black men or poor white men and poor black men and so on.

The point I am trying to make here is a simple one:  Gender plays a role.  It is not the only thing that matters, it may not even be the most crucial factor, but it plays a role in where one finds herself or himself on those power ladders.

Depending on which country we look at the impact of gender differs.  In Afghanistan, for example, gender is one of the most crucial features which determines how one's life will be.  Yet of course even there a gilded cage is better than a rusty cage.

Come to think of it, Rosin's post is utterly provincial.  To discuss how feminism is no longer needed is a slap in the face of most of the world.  But nevermind.

Rosin focuses much of his treatise on choice.  I've discussed choice before, the idea that somehow we are autonomous human beings when choosing careers or jobs or how much skin we bare in our clothes.

Yet all that depends on the society we grow up in and on its general gendered values.  The suitable jobs for women are almost in the mother's milk we absorb, they are certainly in the cartoons we watch, in the sermons we hear at church, in the movies we watch, in popular music and in our peer groups.  By the time a choice about an occupation must be made, the choices are already flavored by that smell of gender suitability.  They are also determined by what we believe about the future, whether we are going to be the main breadwinners (with an assistant in that job, these days) or whether we are going to be the main caretakers of children (possibly also with an assistant.)

So it's not that Rosin is wrong in arguing for "choice" as the reason why women don't work as long days as men, on average, or as the reason why women appear to pick jobs which pay less.  But the framework of that choice should be made clearer.

What I find interesting about this post is how it reminds me of most right-wing arguments about gender:  Women don't want to be liberated and, in any case, women choose to earn less. And so there's no problem at all!
Added later:  Bryce's take on all this.

And even later:  Rosin gives wrong figures for the percentage of women in the US Congress.  The correct figure, 18.3%,  is quite a bit lower than one third she uses here:

The 2012 elections inspired a similar reactionary response in some quarters. A record number of women were elected to Congress, bringing their number to a third of the membership, the level many sociologists cite as a tipping point when a minority becomes normalized and starts to enter the mainstream  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Pax Dickinson. And A Little on James Taranto.

Here's where I go wrong.  Dickinson was, until today, working for the Business Insider.  He is pretty well known as an eager anti-feminism tweeter.

After reading his tweet yesterday (having to do with the titstare presentation), I got all excited about discussing what, if any, the difference might be between misogyny and the things he finds not misogyny:

In other words, I have been doing this wading-in-the-nuclear-acid-waters for so long that my emotions are no longer triggered on, that I directly focus on the logical questions and dwell among them, instead of saying something uplifting out of clear-burning anger and such.

What saved me from that error (if error it is) were two things:  First I read, in one place, the long list of tweets Dickinson* has sent over the recent months, here (do read the list!), and if he doesn't have a serious problem with women I am a pink mouse goddess.

Second, Dickinson got fired, apparently because of his  sexist and racist tweets and the responses they created.  That, sadly, means that lots of the foam-and-fury now will be about a truth-speaking man getting fired by evil feminazis.  So let me plead my case and note that I was asleep during those events. 

Still, that list of Dickinson's tweets sounds like something from one of the worst MRA sites.  And that makes me wonder how many people like him have powerful posts in this world and how they use those posts.

Which brings me to James Taranto, of the Wall Street Journal,  who has done his fair bit from an Evo-Psycho angle on us wimminfolk.  His latest tweet:

Hard to interpret that cryptic tweet, of course.  The headline he refers to is this:

Shellie Zimmerman Won’t Press Charges Against Her Husband. Alleged Domestic Violence Victims Often Don't.

So a kind explanation of Taranto's outburst is that nothing can make Zimmerman innocent, not even the charges being withdrawn.  But that kindness would be superficial, because the fact remains that many alleged domestic violence victims don't press charges, even when they truly are victims and not just alleged victims.  Then there's the wider context to this, what with Zimmerman shooting a black teenager.

A different explanation would be to put that comment in the framework of Taranto's other opinions on gender.
*I kept mistyping his last name as  "Packinson!"  Get it?

Monday, September 09, 2013

Peeling the War Onion

Peeling an onion gives you tears, especially if the onion is one of the northern types (which, in my opinion, are onions on steroids).  The trick is to have a few unlit matches between your teeth while you do it and to have the water running from the faucet.

The onion I was trying to peel over the weekend is a different type.  It's the War Onion:  The odd desire of human beings to go to war.  For note that even when a war seems unavoidable and a necessary evil, there's that desire, to show how tough a country is, to force "respect" from other countries, to worry about the "standing" of one's own country, to go rah-rah and to wave the flag.

That all these things crop up, even after we all know what killing is really like and what it results in (end of beings, enormous grief for the survivors, displacement, long-term mental suffering, physical destruction), there's still a sizable number of people who view it all almost as a football game or at least as a computer war game.

At the same time, I get why not all wars can be avoided, I get the political calculus and the fact that some types of wars are about whether those people survive or whether  "my" people survive.  An existential fight.  But most wars don't fit that bill.

So why can't we avoid wars better?

You might be astonished that Echidne,  who bills herself as a minor goddess, doesn't know the answer.  Duh.  But I think it's useful to take the War Onion apart, layer by layer.  It's more than peeling, of course, because you end up with nothing.  In some ways that's the real significance.

The top layer of the onion is always some recent horror, some recent insult, some difference of opinion, of religion, of values that appears not amenable to diplomacy.  Why it doesn't bend itself to diplomatic means may not always be that clear, but looking at the layer below that one gives us some answers, about the history of the events, about resource distribution between and inside countries, about bad leadership, evil dictators, past grudges, and so on.  A careful study of that history might tell us where things could have gone differently, but that careful study is often possible only many years after the events.

Move one more layer into the onion, and you might come to the resources, both the fight over new-found resources or the fight over very scarce resources.  Some of these fights are just about greed and dominance, some are about survival.  Many of the powder keg areas of the world have that underground rift, of insufficient resources or of resources others want, and that's why they are potential or actual places of war. 

The Israel-Palestine hostilities are about many things but among those are resources, access to water, access to fertile land.  Likewise, I was shocked to learn that Egypt doesn't have enough arable land to support its large farming population.  That fact explains much of the poverty in the country and explains one part of the current unrest.  And in Syria, lack of water is one of the reasons why the poorest farmers had to give up farming and move to cities where they create the suffering and marginalized population from which the rebel movement could do its recruiting.

The lack of resources is not enough for wars, but it may well be one of the necessary conditions for most wars.

Go one layer deeper, almost to the heart of the War Onion, and what do you see?  Perhaps some unpleasant aspects of human tribes.  The desire to divide people into "us" and "them", the desire to base that choice on religion, ethnicity or race.  It is not just a desire, of course, but a fact, in many cases.  Hence civil wars are not about brothers killing brothers, but about brothers of the "right' faith or ideology killing brothers of the "wrong" faith or ideology.

Whether this or the resource layer are deeper can be debated.  They interact.  Thus, if there is enough space, land, water and food, the "wrong" type of people can be endured, and to some extent propaganda can be used to raise the in-group/out-group emotions even when resources aren't that scarce.  Think of the Existential Threat propaganda, the use of the self-defense argument when it's clearly not applicable. 

I'm not sure where the quality of the leaders enters all this.  It matters, greatly.  A warlord will not work for peace, a dictator will not fix the resource scarcity of one part of the population,  the leader of the "free world" will try to manipulate what that world consists of.  And what those leaders care about, in terms of their private psychological makeups, matters also.

But in some ways I think the emptiness in the very middle of the War Onion is Mother Nature turning over in her sleep and scratching the itch caused by too many fleas in one area.  The system is out of balance, and something needs to be adjusted.  That this adjustment is horrible for most sentient beings is sad for them.  Still, it is one solution to the resource problem:  With fewer people the resources stretch better.

That is not intended as an actual description, not intended as implying that the planet thinks or acts in a conscious way, but a way to suggest that if we tended to the underlying problems perhaps we would have fewer wars, fewer acts of collective violence.  Among those underlying problems the climate change is a major one to work on, because without that work we are going to get worse resource shocks. 

If that was coupled with proper population levels?  More investment in knowledge and education, so that individuals learn ways to manage those in-group/out-group feelings?  More focus on equitable division of resources?  These are probably childish thoughts.



Titstare is an app.  It takes pictures of "you" when you stare at tits.

The Guardian wrote about it, too:

Over the weekend at the Techcrunch Disrupt hackathon in San Francisco, Australian duo Jethro Botts and David Boulton jumped on stage to present Titstare, an app that lets you "stare at tits". As they presented their project in under 60 seconds, the audience laughed at the numerous tit-related puns.

I never thought I'd write a post with that name, fellow titholders!  Or racks.  Or racks for tits?  Not sure what the proper synechdoche here might be.  But note that our mates Jethro and David didn't use a synechdoche!  They talked about tits as the things we are all obviously interested in and the things we need an app for.   For ogling purposes.

And I never thought that I'd do an actual analysis of what's wrong with having this particular presentation at that type of meeting.  But it seems necessary to do that, because so many people appear to have the mental age of twelve when it comes to women, tech and tits.  If only women could leave those tits at home when they want to work in tech, things would be much better, right?

But the real message of presentations like this one is that women are not supposed to be in the tech field!  Notice who the intended audience for the speech is.  I don't go around ogling at tits, ever, though I have some weird hobbies.

And that probably goes for the vast majority of women.  So this particular app, in the way it was designed, assumed that the audience in the room would consist of heterosexual men.  The only slight hesitancy in that was the quick reference to women not liking tit-ogling.  But it was quickly passed!

Let's do the analysis, my friends.

First, I don't mind humor about tits, given that it is in the right proportion.  Suppose that I cracked jokes about pricks, non-stop.  Every time you came here you'd read yet another post about pricks, without any real reference to the prick-holders as people.  It is that non-stop approach that gets old-old very quickly, and if you happen to be a prick-holder you'd judge my approach akin to someone who invited you for dinner and then you turned out to be the main course.*

Second, and this is because the more stuff about tits and racks and so on we hear about in coed conversations, the clearer it becomes that to some men that's what women are.  Bits and pieces only.

Third, there's a strong whiff of entitlement in these kinds of treatments.  I could never do that non-stop-penis-column because I don't feel entitled to something like that, not to mention the fact that I do think of prick-carriers as human beings, some of them awesome, kind and gentle and so on.  But Jethro and David don't have those qualms.

Fourth, there's the in-group and out-group aspect of all this.  The presentation assumes that the tech in-group consists of hetero blokes, all keen to ogle at tits.  That the room might have contained a few tit-holders was lamentable but easily ignored, and, besides, this was a joke!  And note that even if it was a joke (perhaps a sorta reverse laugh at the tit oglers), it still was a joke that would hit someone who has been the oglee differently than someone who has been the ogler.

Fifth and finally, place this into the context of women and tech.  Women tend not to go into tech, and some have argued that the reason is in the brogrammer atmosphere (tits and such).   It is that atmosphere which is of concern, not any particular silly stunt like this one.  But that such silly stunts are regarded as AOK, that is what tells us about the atmosphere.

So it's not that I can't take a joke.  But what is funny depends on that background, on one's life experiences, on whether one is a dinner guest laughing at the joke or the rump roast being served.

*That still isn't a good counterexample, because my blog would be just one place.  The reality is that puerile talk about tits can be found in umpteen zillion places on the net.


Added later:  TechCrunch has issued an apology.