Friday, July 15, 2016

Short Posts, 7/15/2016. Views on ISIS/Daesh, Suicides In The US and Choice Feminism, Again.

1.  Given the many recent radical Islamist terror attacks around the world it's good to remember that most Muslims do not support, say, ISIS.  The table below is from a 2015 Pew opinion survey which collected data from eleven countries with significant Muslim populations.  It shows that majorities or even super-majorities in almost all of them have an overwhelmingly negative opinion of ISIS.  The one exception is Pakistan where the option of "don't know" is the most common.

For the data on Israel, note that 91% of Israeli Arabs were also strongly opposed to ISIS.

2. FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver's statistical site, has an interesting graphic about US gun deaths as a medical epidemics:  Almost two thirds of those killed by guns are people who committed suicide, another one third consists of homicide victims.   The graphic also suggests that roughly fifty-six percent of those who die because of guns are men who commit suicide.

But there are nuances which the FiveThirtyEight analysis doesn't seem to include, such as the racial and ethnic differences in suicides.  For example:

In 2014, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.7) was among Whites and the second highest rate (10.9) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives (Figure 5). Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Hispanics (6.3), Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.9), and Blacks (5.5).
The same site also states that white men committed 70% of all suicides in 2014, and that the rate of suicide increases with age.  Thus, there are both age-related, ethnic/racial and gender differences in completed suicides, just as there are age-related, ethnic/racial and gender differences in who becomes a homicide victim.  In that latter group it is young black men who are the majority or the plurality of the victims.  And though the FiveThirtyEight analysis doesn't address the perpetrators of gun homicides, most of those are also men.

Women attempt suicide at higher rates than men but are less likely to succeed.  One reason for that may be found in the much greater use of guns by men than by women, because guns are very effective killers.  For more on this topic, see my earlier post here.

3.  This article on young women becoming sex workers to finance their higher education, say,  is an example of that fairly common tendency of defining feminism in a weird way. One young woman explains her choices as follows:

“While in college,” she goes on, “I’ve had the ability to focus on developing myself because I’m not slaving away at a minimum-wage job. I reject it when people say I’m oppressed by the patriarchy. People who make seven dollars an hour are oppressed by the patriarchy.”
“She’s in control of the male gaze,” says another woman at the table, Erin, 22.
“I thought about doing it,” says Kristen, 21, tentatively. “I signed up for Seeking Arrangement when I couldn’t pay my rent. But I was held back because of the stigma if anyone finds out.”
“What right does anyone have to judge you for anything you do with your body?,” Miranda asks.

And the author of the article expands on all this:

“Is Prostitution Just Another Job?” asked New York magazine in March; it seemed to be a rhetorical question, with accounts of young women who found their self-esteem “soaring” through sex work and whose “stresses seem not too different from any young person freelancing or starting a small business.” “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” asked the cover of The New York Times Magazine in May—again apparently a rhetorical question, with an argument made for decriminalization that seemed to equate it with having “respect” for sex workers. (In broad terms, the drive for decriminalization says it will make the lives of sex workers safer, while the so-called abolitionist movement to end prostitution contends the opposite.)
The Times Magazine piece elicited an outcry from some feminists, who charged that it minimized the voices of women who have been trafficked, exploited, or abused. Liesl Gerntholtz, an executive director at Human Rights Watch, characterized the prostitution debate as “the most contentious and divisive issue in today’s women’s movement.” “There’s a lot of fear among feminists of being seen on the wrong side of this topic,” says Natasha Walter, the British feminist author. “I don’t understand how women standing up for legalizing sex work can’t see the ripple effect of taking this position will have on our idea of a woman’s place in the world.”

So.  This is all about "choice feminism," a concept I have written about in several earlier posts, including this one.  It's a pretty problematic concept, because it omits all comparisons to men's choices, rights and behavior, because it's somewhat nonsensical when it's interpreted as "any choice by a woman makes that choice a feminist one,"* and because it's almost always combined with some statement that no choice by any woman can be criticized.  If she freely chose it, she is empowered and female empowerment is one of goals of feminism, after all.

I have, in fact, had a fundamentalist woman tell me that she is a feminist, because she has voluntarily chosen to subjugate herself to her husband.  Choice feminism leads us into a dead-end, my friends.

This particular article talks about the possibly feminist advantages of sex work without much discussion about the framework within which such choices are made. 

But the framework the article ignores is important:  

Prostitution is an occupation where it's overwhelmingly the case that women are the sellers of sex and men are the buyers of sex.  No analysis of prostitution which doesn't even mention that can be viewed as feminist, because of the two very different roles men and women play on different sides of that marketplace, and because power is very unevenly distributed between prostitutes and their customers.

The long history of prostitution as one of the most despised professions also matters, the long history of laws which criminalized the prostitute but not her customers matters, and even the way the terms "whore" and "slut" are used as common slurs in online debates matter.  But the article has little to say about any of these aspects of the sex work markets.

As an aside, the article is also guilty of another kind of common flaw:  It's all about sex work as the "new normal" for young women and some young men**, but the statistical evidence to make that argument is wholly lacking.  People refer to what their friends do or believe, there are references to articles or movies and so on, but I see no hard data on how many young women (and men) finance their college education by sex work.  Neither do I see any data on how many did that in the past.   Without such data the argument about prostitution being the "new normal" are just unproven opinions.  But great click-bait, of course.

* Suppose I decide to strangle some annoying person.  Is that, then, a feminist act?  It would be my choice, after all.  (Not that I'd ever do anything of the sort.)

To omit the comparison to the kinds of choices men have makes "I choose my choices" irrelevant from a feminist perspective.  This doesn't mean that those choices are wrong for the person who makes them, just that they are not part of the Great Feminist March Onward.

** The article interviews a few men.  As far as I can tell, their customers are gay men, not women.