Thursday, October 06, 2016

From The "Whose Body Is It, Anyway?" Files. Three Case Studies.

1.  In Poland the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) proposed an almost complete abortion ban, with the only exception being the unintended death of the fetus to save the pregnant woman's life.

This is not the first such proposal in Poland, a "staunchly" Catholic country.  The Catholic Church has a finger in every political pie in the country, and would like that finger in every Polish vagina, too,  especially now that PiS,  the party most intertwined with the Church,  is running the government.  To put it plainly, it's time to play the piper for its political support, and that piper is the Catholic Church.

But the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected, despite that "staunch" Catholicism of the country.  Why?

This is why:

Some 100,000 people, mostly women, protested against the proposals in cities across Poland on Monday and appeared to prompt the PiS to swing against the bill, although the party promotes Catholic values.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo distanced herself from a change to the law and Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin moved to reassure women on Wednesday that a total ban would not get through.
"Abortion will certainly not be banned when the woman is the victim of rape or if her life or her health is in danger," he insisted.
Whether Polish women (or Poles, in general) are especially feminist is unclear to me.  It could be that the protests are caused by an anger at the way the Catholic Church has played party-politics in Poland, as this article suggests.  It could be, but I doubt that, because then the 100,000 protesters wouldn't have mostly been women.

This counts as good news in my books.

2.  In Egypt, a lawmaker called Elhamy (or Ilhami) Agina has proposed that women should have to take a virginity test before going to college:

Agena said in an interview last week that virginity tests were needed to combat the proliferation of informal marriages, known as “gawaz orfy,” between students. Virtually expense free, such marriages have become more popular in recent years because of high youth unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing.
The gawaz orfy is widely viewed as a religiously sanctioned way of having premarital sex, a taboo in mostly conservative and majority Muslim Egypt. Muslim clerics have spoken out against such marriages.
In Egypt, as in other conservative, Muslim countries, a young woman’s virginity is widely seen as a matter of family honor, the loss of which could prevent her from getting married.

Mr. Agena sees himself as the shepherd of the flocks of women-with-vulvas in other ways, too.  For example, he has defended Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as a useful device to keep that horrible lust for sex under control.  But his take on the value of that practice is somewhat different:

Agena’s comments about women have sparked controversy in the past, including claims that some female lawmakers were not dressing modestly enough.
He sparked an uproar last month by saying that the practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM, was needed to curb women’s sexuality and counterbalance allegedly widespread male impotence in Egypt. He claimed that 64 percent of Egyptian men suffer from impotence, citing increased sales of Viagra.
“If women are not circumcised, they will become sexually strong and there will be a problem,” an imbalance leading to divorce, he added.

Mr. Agena sounds to me as weird as a turnip playing bagpipes.  But a conservative culture can almost be defined by an odd mixture of public-and-private ownership of women's bodies*:

In private, women's bodies belong to their male guardians, the individuals who rule the family.  But in a more public sense women's bodies belong to both their wider kin (that family honor business) and the wider society.  It's that wider society that Mr. Agena attempts to represent when he proposes the sticking of fingers into young Egyptian women's vulvas.

Here's the good news:  Mr. Agena's gentle proposal caused at least some anger in Egypt:

A women’s rights group has filed a legal complaint against an Egyptian lawmaker who called for mandatory virginity tests for women seeking university admission, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported Sunday.
It quoted Maya Morsi, head of the state-sanctioned National Council for Women, as saying the complaint demands the expulsion from parliament of Ilhami Agena and a criminal investigation into his actions. She said the lawmaker was harming the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.

After female law-makers protested Agena's proposal, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament has agreed to refer Mr. Agena to an ethics committee which has the power of expulsion.

But note that the last quote above doesn't talk about the ownership of the female body, only about the reputation of Egyptian women, men and the country itself.  In that sense it is more linked to the concept of honor as dwelling in women's vaginas than it is to the question who owns our bodies.

3.  The US Republican vice-presidential candidate, the Christianist Mike Pence, is also pretty keen on supervising the doings and beings of the female body.  The US Republican presidential candidate, one Donald Trump, of course believes that the ownership of all female bodies belongs to him.


*A more liberal culture has slightly different ideas about who has the right to female bodies, with more women demanding that right to rule their own bodies, while, at the same time, there's that public ownership of such bodies in pronography (spelling mistake intentional).

The idea that families have a say, too, hasn't died out, either.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Heterosexual Women: Pick That Diploma Or Pick That Husband. Your Choice!

The lonely plight of the educated woman is a very old trope in opinion writing about men and women and heterosexual marriage, and I'm not blameless when it comes to writing on that topic, though I tend to write from the other side.

My first blog post on this fascinating topic was 2003.  I quote from it:

1890's: A marriage study concluded that only 28 percent of college-educated women could get married.

1940's: A Cornell University study said that college-educated single women had no more than a 65 percent chance of getting married.

1940's: This Week (a Sunday magazine): A college education "skyrockets your chances of becoming an old maid."
2000's: Sylvia Ann Hewlett, in Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, (2002):"Nowadays, the rule of thumb seems to be that the more successful a woman, the less likely it is she will find a husband or bear a child."
And more on the same topic can be found in this post, this post and this post.   Also here, here and here. More links can be had inside some of those posts.

So what does the actual data tell us about women, education levels and marriage today?  Two sources I found by quick Googling tell me that

a) in a 2010 study the marriage rates of college-educated women were essentially the same as the marriage rates of women who had some college and the marriage rates of women who only had a high school diploma.  All those were higher than the marriage rates of women with less than a high school diploma.*


b) Historically, college-educated women were less likely to marry.  But beginning with people born in 1955–64, college-educated women became more likely than other women to ever marry.  Recent projections suggest that the educational gap in marriage will continue to widen over time.  Other evidence has shown that higher-earning women are also increasingly more likely to marry.

What made me write about this again, you might ask.  Well, Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Finland published an "opinion" piece on the topic of those poor highly learned women who  just can't catch a husband, possibly because men want to dominate women (evolutionary psychology), possibly because religions tell them to do that (both the Bible and the Quran tell men that they are superior), or possibly because men lack the self-confidence to marry a woman with more education than the man has.  She might want to boss him about!

The piece ends with a lamentation about the need for more children, presumably by highly educated women.

I have always enjoyed those they-sky-is-falling-wimminz-have-degrees! pieces for several reasons.

They are ALWAYS about the impossibility for heterosexual women to find a husband, even though the roughly average numbers of men and women in the fertile years tells us that any vast army of single women would have to be matched by a vast army of single men****.  But these stories are never about the plight of the single men who would want to get married.  That is extremely puzzling.

Well, not really, because the subtext in that opinion piece is to scare women away from higher education, to tell them that if they go to medical school they will sleep only with their stethoscopes or if they go to law school they will sleep only with their law books.  So pick the diploma or pick the husband.

That's how I interpreted the message, what with being an old hand in reading these types of opinions.  But the people commenting on the piece saw the article as man-bashing, and I can see their point, at least on the superficial level, though I strongly disagree about the actual aim of the piece.

The response to the article reflected that man-bashing assumption:  Over half the comments are woman-bashing, in particular the bashing of women with university degrees, who have only learned stuff by memorizing it and repeating it like a parrot, who are fat feminists who hate men, who are arrogant and full of their own greatness and so on.  Another third addressed those comments, so a good fight could be enjoyed by all.  The rest were about the need to have women who are feminine, cook well, and listen extremely well, not these arrogant harpies who have upended traditional sex roles and such.

Sigh.  I should never read the comments.  I know that, but I need a twelve-step program to make me stop reading them.  It's like an addiction.  I close the computer, work away, do tai chi, and then I'm drawn back, as if by a giant magnet, and I have to read them, because some tiny flame inside my heart thinks that they might actually be good ones, this time, though they never have been good ones yet!

*   These data from the NLSY79 apply to individuals born between 1957 and 1965.   They were interviewed in 2010.  The same study also found that divorce rates were lower for college-educated women than for women with less education.

** This is a direct quote from the article, which also addresses racial and ethnic differences in marriage rates.  Table 3 in the article shows marriage patterns for men and women in different ethnic and racial groups by levels of education and notes the destructive impact of economic disparities on the marriage rates of both less educated blacks and now also less educated whites.

Although the actual percentages differ, more educated men and women were in 2012 more likely to have been ever married (including, of course, being married right now) than men and women with less education, with the exception of educated white women who were equally likely to have ever been married as the less educated groups of white women.

Thus, none of the recent evidence supports the assertion that it is the educated women who cannot find a husband.

***  I haven't bothered translating the piece here.  I can do that if you think it's necessary, but it's time-consuming.   The important point is this:  It seems perfectly fine to publish an opinion piece which doesn't give any data which shows that  the presumed problem (educated women not finding husbands) actually exists.  It doesn't exist in the US, but of course it could exist in Finland.  Or not.  We cannot tell, because the evidence is not provided.

The piece is clickbait, of course, though I am sad that even an august newspaper must resort to that.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the usual comment which states that certain sex roles are "natural."  You can guess which arrangement that might be.  Hint:  It's the arrangement where one spouse is the employer and the other spouse the employee, with power relationships based on that.  It's not the partnership or team arrangement.  

****  Except in the case of polyandry, of course!

Monday, October 03, 2016

Rudy Giuliani and Bob Woodward Talk about Hillary Clinton. I Dissect.

What a scrumptious day for news about the US presidential campaign of 2016 for someone who holds the magnifying glass to the events in order to spot anything sexist.  You know, the kind of stuff which doesn't apply to only one Hillary Clinton but to several billion women on this little globe.

Take the comment of Rudolph Giuliani who used to be the mayor of New York City.  He adores Donald Trump, which is sad in itself, but this is even sadder.  I copied down what he said in praise of Trump, in case you can't be bothered with the video:

Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman and the only thing she has produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out her e-mails.

Ooops!  Our Rudy may have experienced one of those sexist moments, where the tongue races faster than the regulating part of the brain.  Or perhaps he didn't really intend to have that little "and" in the sentence*?  Perhaps he meant to compare Trump's economic genius (!!! I'm falling off my chair for laughing so much) to Clinton's e-mail debacle?

The Hot Air site argues that Giuliani only meant to compare that economic genius to the e-mails, and in order to prove that they did a gender reversal:

Just examine the sentence and imagine Hillary Clinton were not a woman. Insert “man” instead:
“Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a man, and the only thing he’s ever produced is a lot of work for the FBI checking out his emails?”
Is there anything strange about that sentence when it is reoriented to male-specific pronouns? Of course not.

Yes, there is something strange about that sentence when it is reoriented to male-specific pronouns.  It makes no sense, because of that little "and," once again.  It's still comparing that-economic-genius man to some generic man. just as in the original the comparison is between the Nobel-prize-level thinker to a generic woman, who also has other problems.

Who knows what Giuliani meant.  Still, I'd like to note that I believe an ironing board would be a better president for the United States than Donald Trump.  A ham sandwich would be a better president, and neither would tweet at 3am in revenge for personal slights.

Which brings me to the second hilarious piece of the day:  Bob Woodward, of the Washington Post fame, criticized Hillary Clinton for gloating after her debate victory:

Woodward: "Yeah. She won the debate. I think there's universal agreement on that. I guess Trump would not agree. But she really did. But, you know, that clip shows this kind of self-congratulation, this self-satisfaction. And as we know and as we try to teach our children, when you win something, don't gloat. Humility works. And the problem for her is this feeds the notion that she's in this for herself. You see that. She was overjoyed with what she did. Fine, take a victory lap, but there is — something like that doesn't get dialed back, and it probably should."

Think of the children!  What makes this funny is, of course, the way Donald Trump gloats** and boasts about every single thing:  His fantastic and beautiful corporations, his fantastic and beautiful bankruptcies, his fantastic and beautiful plans to salvage the country etc, and his great political victories.

So does Woodward then logically think that Donald Trump is really in this for himself? 

I don't know, but I suspect that it's the idea of female ambition as deplorable that underlies his analysis of Hillary Clinton's behavior.  Granted, it's tough to draw statistical conclusions from the way one female politician is treated, given that powerful female politicians are as rare as hen's teeth. 

Thus, it's theoretically possible that Hillary is unusually self-centered and ruthlessly ambitious.  But if that's the case, what is Donald???

And why isn't he equally criticized for his clear narcissism?

Nah.  I smell entrenched ideas about the way "good" women are expected to act here: humble, unselfish and considerate.  And then, sadly, ineffective, because humility, unselfishness and politeness are not rewarded in the power hierarchies of this world.


*  This would fix the problem:

  Don’t you think a man who has this kind of economic genius is a lot better for the United States than a woman who has only produced a lot of work for the FBI checking out her e-mails.

**  Examples can be found here, here, here here, here and here.