Saturday, May 24, 2008

Media bias starts early (by Suzie)

... the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media ... partnered with USC's Annenberg School of Communications to undertake the largest study of live-action and animated G-rated movies ever. ... Male characters outnumbered female characters in all genres by as much as 2:1, not only in lead speaking roles, but even in crowd scenes. 
          This article explores movies and TV shows for kids. But the only comment comes from an accursed "anonymous" who complains: "Oh my god ... not THIS idiotic conversation again." After all, what's the harm if young kids hear mostly male narrators and see mostly male heroes? How could it possibly affect their view of themselves and the world?
           For a global perspective, read this post by Ammu Joseph.

Have You Had Enough?

Of the sexism that seems to be all the rage among the political pundits these days? If not, watch some more below. If you no longer need convincing about its ubiquity and want to protest right now, click on this link and sign the attached petition.

What is the petition all about?


On May 23, The Women's Media Center, along with our partners at Media Matters, launched, "Sexism Sells, But We're Not Buying It," a new video and online petition campaign illustrating the pervasive nature of sexism in the media's coverage. While Hillary Clinton's campaign has cast a spotlight on the issue of sexism, this isn't a partisan issue: it's about making sure that women's voices are present and powerful in our national dialogue.

And due to popular demand, here, once again is the Political Boyz Choir on what fun sexism is. Especially among a team of just guys:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Critter Blogging: More Parrot

By swampcracker

I did some standing meditation in the park the other day. Friendly dogs would come over to investigate that strange new tree, and I feared that they'd pee on my legs. So far I am from enlightenment, sadly.

But it was fun to be there between the sky and the earth, like a little metal staple holding together two sheets of paper in a gentle wind. We are all staples...

Do women count? (by Suzie)

         Anyone interested in how the media portrays women should read “Do Women Count?” by E.J. Graff, senior researcher for the Gender & Justice Project of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. She cites studies and examines issues. She looks at who writes the news and whom they interview. Some  conclusions: 
       … in the news media, women are mainly shown as having families and feelings and sexualities and bodies and problems. Men are shown to have authority and expertise and power and knowledge and money. Next time you watch a report about an earthquake or a famine, think about which sex is speaking about the geology or weather patterns … and which sex is crying over the dead body, or is the dead body.
        ... The media help create our image of the world, our internal picture of what’s normal and true. And when the news is being written by men about men, a significant part of reality is missing from view.
If the media ignores an issue or doesn't get it right, that can affect public policy. 

The real (Sojourner) Truth by Suzie

          I keep seeing Internet posts that misconstrue Sojourner Truth’s positions.  Some praise Truth for confronting racist white suffragists in her famous 1851 speech, usually titled “Ain’t I a Woman?” The latest example is by the Rev. Valda Jean Combs.
          Frances Gage published the best-known version of Truth's speech. (You also can read her speeches at the Sojourner Truth Institute.) Truth concluded:
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
          Truth addressed her remarks to a white man who didn’t want to give women equal rights. If her speech was meant as a rebuke to white suffragists, no one seemed to notice at the time. They counted her as an ally and reproduced the speech.
          Combs makes another statement that has currency on the Web:
Sister Sojourner spoke out despite the pleas of white female suffragists who thought that demanding the vote for former slaves would doom their cause to failure.
          This is the opposite of what happened. Some people who wanted to guarantee rights for black men were afraid that extending rights to women would be too controversial. In an 1867 speech, Truth said:
There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.
          That proved prescient, as it took until 1920 for the United States to give women the vote. By then, the KKK was reaching the height of its power, and many black men had been kept from voting. Black men and women would continue to face intimidation until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 
          Combs speaks of white women as if none worked for abolition and civil rights. In her book “Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol,” Nell Irvin Painter describes how Truth, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many others worked against slavery and for the rights of women and blacks before the Civil War. During the war, they focused on enslaved blacks.
In 1863, Stanton and Anthony formed the National Women’s Loyal League, the first organization to petition Congress to make emancipation permanent and universal in the 13th Amendment.
          After the war, some people, such as Douglass, considered this the “Negro’s hour,” by which they meant “black men.” They thought women’s rights were too controversial to include in the 14th and 15th Amendments. They said black men were in greater need of rights because they were more oppressed. Some black women agreed with them, as did many white men and women.
        Anthony, Stanton and other women were outraged. They had worked all their adult lives for rights for women and blacks. They refused to support the amendments unless women were included.
       (It's not an exact match, but a modern-day equivalent might be the controversy over whether to support a bill ending employment discrimination based on sexuality if it didn't also include gender identity.)
        Stanton was furious that uneducated men, both black and white, were getting to vote before an educated woman like herself. She ripped into them, with every nasty description she could use. These days, a lot of people point to her statements as proof she was racist. But Douglass still considered her free of racial prejudice, as Painter points out. After all, Stanton wasn’t talking about an educated and eloquent man like Douglass. This was mostly a class issue.
        (The bias against ignorant people voting remains today. Many progressives say nasty things about people they consider ignorant, such as “white trash.” Look at what people have said about the West Virginia and Kentucky primaries.)
           The fight over the 14th and 15th Amendments led to a split in the suffrage movement. Although she eventually sided against Anthony and Stanton, “Truth sought to heal divisions in her community,” Painter says. In 1872 in Rochester, she, Anthony and others tried to vote in the presidential election, even though they knew it was illegal. (Anthony was arrested for voting.)
           Read Stephanie Coontz for more about the fight over the 14th and 15th Amendments.
         Combs says: “Sojourner's place was to speak when she was asked, and to sit down and shut up when her agenda diverged from that of her suffragist sisters.” I disagree, I think she contributed to the debate. Perhaps she can set an example to Democrats as they try to come together in the general election.
     ETA: I didn't mean to imply that the Voting Rights Act stopped all intimidation, only that that was its intent. Clearly, problems continue to the current day. 

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On The Texas Decision

A Texas appeals court has ruled that the state of Texas had no right to seize the children of the polygamist sect, because the children represented in that suit were not in immediate danger of abuse:

Except for five girls who became pregnant between the ages of 15 and 17, "there was no evidence of any physical abuse or harm to any other child," and none of the five were among the children whose return was being sought by the mothers in the case, it said.

I agree with the decision, in the very narrow legal sense. But of course I disagree with the way abuse is defined as only physical one, and with the idea that it's perfectly acceptable to groom young girls to accept abuse until the moment of the abuse comes. I also wonder whether it really is true that the sect appeared to have an unusually small number of teenage boys, and if it is true, what happened to the missing boys. I would think abandoning them somewhere would constitute abuse.

The wider area of how to protect children against abuse and of what the role of the government, neighbors and so on is can be difficult terrain to explore. It could be argued that these children have suffered from the very act of seizing them and from being separated from their parents. On the other hand, all this, once again, depends on how abuse is defined, because returning a young girl to the people who are grooming her for marriage with a much older relative is abuse, too.

In general, I'm worried about any children who are brought up in isolation from the rest of the society. They may "stay safe" that way or "stay religious" or whatever, but their isolation also means that they cannot learn alternative ways of living and cannot get help if they indeed are abused.

From The Picture Gallery

From Shakes:

Some people in the comments asked whether it's possible to attack Hillary Clinton without using sexist slurs. Of course it is. But sexist slurs are much more fun to use. Sadly, they also reveal some deeply-hidden fears of those who apply them.

Take this cartoon, for instance. The reference to the possible racism of the Clinton campaign is a fair slur, from my point of view. It's about something that is verifiable or falsifiable, something that we can study and evaluate.

The slur about Hillary having a beard, on the other hand is not a fair one. She is not a man, doesn't actually have a beard, and the fact that the cartoon gives her one implies that she is overstepping the permissible boundaries, hunting in the fields which are reserved only for men.

That she is drawn all ugly in the cartoon is a fair slur in the sense that the tradition of painting your opponent ugly is a long one. That the writing is about her balls (testicles) is another sexist slur, based on the fact that women don't have testicles and shouldn't pretend to have them. Or rather, that people without testicles can't have power.

But the most fascinating aspect of the cartoon are all those fried balls, most of them in Hillary's bag. Here we are touching upon castration fears.

Was that enough calm and collected analysis for you, my dear readers?


Has sexism played a role in the Democratic Primary?

Here to answer that question are two great and impartial experts on the topic of gender:
Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle.

Mindboggling indeed. Or it would be, had pundits in this country more minds to boggle. I guess the best parable would be to have a television discussion about the right for chickens to be free and safe and the two experts would be foxes. Oh my.

I'm not sure why the pundits don't see what an incredible insult this discussion is to women.

Meet John McCain

If you haven't met him already, you can get a fairly good idea from Mike Tomasky's book review. Tomasky writes about how McCain became "the maverick" rather than "the flip-flopper", and how he still is viewed as the "straight-talker" when he has pretty much relinquished all his old values and replaced them from the stock of the ueber-right.

As an example, only ten years ago McCain expressed support for Roe v. Wade. Now he is opposed to abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Or so Tomasky tells us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Being Funny

Everybody knows that feminist are not funny. But there's a way in which I'm especially not funny, a kind of surrealistic field of humor where I think I'm laughing all alone.

For instance, I really want to write a book called My Life As An Old Man. And I want to troll blogs under the pseudonym Olive the Omnivorous Ovary. Not a fanged vagina, just something that nips the very tip....

That's just what you would glimpse from the door of my Insane Humor Room. I'm not going to tell you the other types of things which make me laugh, except that sometimes laughter is the only real self-defense against the vicissitudes of life. Well, perhaps I could mention that I really love the idea of titles which have nothing to do with the article or the post or the book they have been glued to, and I have no idea why that is funny to me. But when I imagine a book about, say, nuclear warfare, being called "Tea And Pancakes" I howl. Howl.

So why are feminists not funny? Or rather: Why is accusing someone of not being able to take a joke a legitimate form of defense? A lot of jokes are boring or contrived or just not very funny. A lot of jokes base the laugh-line on a shared understanding that Other People are stupid. Take the Blonde Jokes, for example. Those jokes are only funny if you really think that women with fair hair are very stupid people. I might not laugh at them for a very personal reason, a reason which has nothing to do with my sick sense of humor. Or its absence. Or hair color.

Can funniness be analyzed and understood? Probably not in the sense of creating a formula that would always work, and the very work of doing so would be extremely unfunny. But all humor depends on surprise. How that surprise is delivered varies, and different folks laugh at different sources of surprise: slapstick, situational comedy, word puns, story jokes and so on.

The surprise is needed. It also needs to trigger the laughter reaction. Why feminists don't find certain surprises funny is for the same reason that you throwing a cake in my face might make me surprised in a way not conducive to laughter. You, on the other hand, might get a nice belly laugh out of that. At least until you have figured out what happens to people who throw cakes in the faces of goddesses. Burp.

On Sexism And Hillary Clinton: A Gentle Correction

Watch this from Media Matters of America:

Perhaps none of this gives you the kind of bolt of lightning AH! experience I had. Perhaps I got that one because I'm one very stupid goddess and it took me this long to see what appears to be a genuine misunderstanding among many pundits and, yes, also among many women who have blogged about this sexism/racism thing in the Democratic primaries.

The sexism is not bad, because it might hurt Hillary Clinton, just as the racism is not bad, because it might hurt Barack Obama. Not really.

That is a narrow and cramped and, dare I say it?, elitist view of what is going on, a view which revolves around the people in power and their political strategies and tactics. It is also a view which ignores the real problem altogether, this:

The sexist comments and the racist slurs are bad, because they are being washed, re-clad in Armani, presented back in high society, made to look innocent, and after all this they will be cropping up much more frequently everywhere, aimed at everyone who qualifies to be their victim. THAT's what is bad about them.

How can I make that any stronger and clearer? It can be any of us women or any person of color or both that will suffer from the new domestication of sexist and racists taunts. Any Of Us.

I have not written about the sexism in these Democratic Primaries in order to protect Hillary Clinton. She looks fairly well equipped to protect herself. I have written about it because sexism hurts all women, all little girls, all old ladies, women everywhere.

Gah. Perhaps what I'm talking about is still totally unclear. But if you read widely on this topic on blogs you will find that even many feminists have this view that the sexism is not really deplorable, because Hillary Clinton really is a monster bitch. That the dangers of the sexism really have nothing to do with Hillary Clinton should be made much more obvious. And no, voting for someone else will not save a woman voter from that sexism that is being incubated right now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What Is This Thing?

'Dancing With Stars' actually gives me some fodder for feminist writing! Isn't that great?

Not sure, because I have never watched the program, but I did read this interesting take on the way the largely female audience votes affects who wins:

Kristi Yamaguchi is clearly the most talented contestant on "Dancing With the Stars." But the question still looms heading into Tuesday's finale: Can a woman win the celebrity dance-off?

Men have won the mirrorball trophy during the show's past four seasons. The only woman to take the "Dancing" crown was Kelly Monaco in season one. With a viewership that's 75 percent women, plus brazen displays of bare skin and sex appeal from current male finalists Jason Taylor and Cristian de la Fuente, the hit ABC show still has plenty of suspense for the final episode.

And it drew plenty of viewers to Monday's broadcast -- 18.8 million, according to preliminary Nielsen figures. It was the most-watched program of the night by far, with the largest audience for a Monday edition of "Dancing" in six weeks.

"You obviously have to get the technique, but (also) compete with the personalities that all the boys have," Yamaguchi told The Associated Press after Monday's performances. "I think their smiles and their personalities melt hearts across the country."

Figure-skating champ Yamaguchi got a perfect score of 60 on Monday's show, and has regularly topped the judges' scoreboard throughout the sixth season of the ABC dance-off. But viewer votes count just as much, and the combination is what determines the winner.

So what's going on here? Is it that women just won't vote for women? Or is it that the female partners of the male celebrities are so good that they cause those pairs to win? Or could it be, could it just be, that the women vote the sexy guys in so that they can keep ogling them longer?

It sounds like that last alternative, based on the quoted article. If that's true, all sorts of avenues open up for feminist walks. For instance, we could amble down the Attraction Avenue, wondering whether women might, after all, get turned on by visual images of hot guys, even though we have repeatedly been told that They Do Not.

Then there's the Sex Object Street. Do women walk along that one as easily as men do, picking and choosing among the luscious bodies on show? And the Lofty Lane: Do we really want to see gender equality in that?

All this might be a dead end, of course, if the real reason for the biased voting is something else. (Hee.)

Best Wishes to Senator Kennedy And His Family

I'm not sure how I feel about his illness being made into a major news item. Somehow it smells wrong to me, though I understand that people can learn about various illnesses by following the news stories of famous people who have them. Perhaps someone's life is going to be prolonged as a consequence?

There's a sense in which this society is fairly ruthless concerning people who are regarded as Public Individuals. All health concerns, all marital problems, all history must be made public. I can see the reasons for that but it does seem quite a tough price to pay for having a job with decision-making power.

Something Odd I Have Noticed

One night a commentor on a liberal blog pointed out that Michelle Obama is a better orator than Barack Obama. The real politician in the family! But of course Michelle is not running for office. Barack is.

This made me think of a book I recently read in which the writer, a man, thanks his wife as the better writer in the family. He is the one who makes money out of writing in that family, though.

Then I looked back on all the comments about Elizabeth Edwards and her great political acumen, her good political plans and her strength and courage. And how I very often read what a great politician Eleanor Roosevelt was and how sad it was that she didn't have institutional power for her work until very, very late in her life.

There is something that unites all these comments: They are about women who are not career politicians or writers but the wives of career politicians or writers. And I'm wondering if the meaning of such praise isn't a little different when it is aimed at a woman who isn't, say, actively seeking office but is instead carrying out the traditionally decreed supporting role of a wife.

I'm wondering if that praise would very quickly change to something else should one of those women suddenly run for office herself. But perhaps I'm just overly sensitive right now.

Positive Polarization

Sometimes the irony is just too much for me. The term in the title of this post is the name the Republicans gave their successful movement building in the early 1970's, as described by George Packer in a New Yorker article:

Nixon and Buchanan visited thirty-five states that fall, and in November the Republicans won a midterm landslide. It was the end of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the beginning of his fall from power. In order to seize the Presidency in 1968, Nixon had to live down his history of nasty politicking, and he ran that year as a uniter. But his Administration adopted an undercover strategy for building a Republican majority, working to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, élitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.

This strategy was put into action near the end of Nixon's first year in office, when antiwar demonstrators were becoming a disruptive presence in Washington. Buchanan recalls urging Nixon, "We've got to use the siege gun of the Presidency, and go right after these guys." On November 3, 1969, Nixon went on national television to speak about the need to avoid a shameful defeat in Vietnam. Looking benignly into the camera, he concluded, "And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of Americans—I ask for your support." It was the most successful speech of his Presidency. Newscasters criticized him for being divisive and for offering no new vision on Vietnam, but tens of thousands of telegrams and letters expressing approval poured into the White House. It was Nixon's particular political genius to rouse simultaneously the contempt of the bien-pensants and the admiration of those who felt the sting of that contempt in their own lives.

Buchanan urged Nixon to enlist his Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, in a battle against the press. In November, Nixon sent Agnew—despised as dull-witted by the media—on the road, where he denounced "this small and unelected √©lite" of editors, anchormen, and analysts. Buchanan recalls watching a broadcast of one such speech—which he had written for Agnew—on a television in his White House office. Joining him was his colleague Kevin Phillips, who had just published "The Emerging Republican Majority," which marshalled electoral data to support a prophecy that Sun Belt conservatism—like Jacksonian Democracy, Republican industrialism, and New Deal liberalism—would dominate American politics for the next thirty-two or thirty-six years. (As it turns out, Phillips was slightly too modest.) When Agnew finished his diatribe, Phillips said two words: "Positive polarization."

There you have it. Tearing apart a country is positive polarization.

But of course this was a clever answer to the perennial problem conservatives have: How to get enough voters when their natural constituency is pretty small, consisting largely of the moneyed elites.

To get more voters, something had to be given to them. Because the Republicans weren't going to give them money or government programs, they had to be thrown the corpses of their countrymen and -women instead, in that stupid drama called the "culture wars." Well, not the corpses, but that wasn't for lack of trying. Any amount of social disruption and hatred was an acceptable price for someone to pay, as long as the real money kept flowing back to the same bank accounts as always.

Hence the rise of social conservatism. It's cheap, it provokes deep emotions and it costs the powerful in the Republican Party nothing. Even among the Democrats some see it as a purely cultural issue, something trivial, not real politics. But social conservatism is a very real threat to those whose traditional social position has been an oppressed one. That would be us ladies.

Packer's piece is fascinating if you don't mind reading about Republican guys doing Republican guy things. He even admits that the conservative movement is in trouble and will need new ideas. These are the new ideas he proposes:

It's probably not an accident that the most compelling account of the crisis was written by two conservatives who are still in their twenties and have made their careers outside movement institutions. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, editors at the Atlantic Monthly, are eager to cut loose the dead weight of the Gingrich and Bush years. In their forthcoming book, "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" (Doubleday), Douthat and Salam are writing about, if not for, what they call "Sam's Club Republicans"—members of the white working class, who are the descendants of Nixon's "northern ethnics and southern Protestants" and the Reagan Democrats of the eighties. In their analysis, America is divided between the working class (defined as those without a college education) and a "mass upper class" of the college educated, who are culturally liberal and increasingly Democratic. The New Deal, the authors acknowledge, provided a sense of security to working-class families; the upheavals of the sixties and afterward broke it down. Their emphasis is on the disintegration of working-class cohesion, which they blame on "crime, contraception, and growing economic inequality."

Crime, contraception and growing economic inequality? Who is being bought out here at whose expense? In any case, the growing economic inequality is one consequence of all that the Republicans have supported: Reduced taxes for the top earners of this country, increased liberalization of international trade and outsourcing, a fraying social welfare net. Crime tends to increase with worsening economic times, too.

But contraception? The new conservative movement is going to be a movement against contraception? It sounds like the movement is going to be against women, even more openly than the old one has been.

Nah. I don't think it will wash.

Today's Sad Thought

If taking down evil dictators really was the reason for the Iraq occupation, how come aren't there any troops gathering at the borders of Burma?

Monday, May 19, 2008

No Woman Zones

That is what some parts of Iraq appear to now have, after these years of liberation of the Iraqi people:

With US forces in Iraq now funding both Sunni and Shia tribal leaders in an effort to stabilise the country, conditions for women grow deadlier by the day. Islamist leaders have imposed new restrictions on women, including prohibitions on work, bans on travel without a muhram (male guardian), and compulsory veiling.

According to the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), formed in Baghdad in 2003, women are harassed if they appear in the streets of most Iraqi cities and towns, educational institutions, or work places. Now there are even "no woman zones" in some southern cities controlled by Islamist parties and tribal leaders.

It's a lot like the rules here about dogs. Dogs must always be accompanied, cannot be off-leash and cannot enter certain places (supermarkets, restaurants) at all.

Did you find that comparison insulting? And if you did, why? Because I'm comparing women to dogs, unclean animals in many cultures? Because I'm judging a culture? Or because it is disgusting that women can be seen as deserving this kind of treatment anywhere on this earth?

Now, what would help the women of Iraq? Their country is all liberated, though not for their benefit, of course. Most Iraqis dislike George Bush and the American forces. What would the next step forward be for George Bush, on this field consisting of quicksand?

How about this:

After basking in a showy celebration of America's close ties with Israel, President Bush criticized other Middle East leaders on Sunday, prodding them to expand their economies, offer equal opportunity to women and embrace democracy if they want peace to become reality.

Now THAT will really make feminism look good in Iraq.

Jack and Jill Went Up The Hill. Or the Stories We Tell About Gender and Science.

Elaine McArdle's recent piece in the Boston Globe about why women are so rare in physics and engineering and computing and mathematics and such other "hard" sciences offers a scrumptious example of gender politics in the guise of simply pretending to report on objective research. Just scrumptious. The article should be taught in all anti-feminist schools, because McArdle writes well, manages to ignore all evidence which doesn't support the thesis she is making, yet adds enough quiet muttering at the very end of the piece to come across as an impartial observer.

McArdle's main thesis is an old one, the second oldest in the "field" of trying to explain the scarcity of women in sciences as innocuous. The oldest argument is that female creatures can't do numbers. The second oldest is that they don't want to do numbers. That they don't want to do numbers makes it ok not to have them trying to do them. Thus, we can all relax. The world is not a sexist place at all and What Is Is For A Good Reason.

According to this story, and the story McArdle discusses, girls "self-select" themselves out of mathematics, physics and computer science, away from the inorganic fields towards the fertile, nurturing organic fields. It's not discrimination that causes the difference but pure sex-linked preference. That those hard and inorganic fields also happen to be the ones that pay the best, the ones that have most prestige, well, that is ignored, because then the Good Thing angle would be lost.

We don't mention money in these pieces, nope. Neither do we fret over what "preference" means when a girl deciding to study physics might be the only girl in a laboratory where the jokes that fly are about cunts. None of this matters when it's possible to say this:

Rosenbloom and his colleagues used a standard personality-inventory test to measure people's preferences for different kinds of work. In general, Rosenbloom's study found, men and women who enjoyed the explicit manipulation of tools or machines were more likely to choose IT careers - and it was mostly men who scored high in this area. Meanwhile, people who enjoyed working with others were less likely to choose IT careers. Women, on average, were more likely to score high in this arena.

Personal preference, Rosenbloom and his group concluded, was the single largest determinative factor in whether women went into IT. They calculated that preference accounted for about two-thirds of the gender imbalance in the field. The study was published in November in the Journal of Economic Psychology.

It may seem like a cliche - or rank sexism - to say women like to work with people, and men prefer to work with things. Rosenbloom acknowledges that, but says that whether due to socialization or "more basic differences," the genders on average demonstrate different vocational interests.

"It sounds like stereotypes," he said in an interview, "but these stereotypes have a germ of truth."

In the language of the social sciences, Rosenbloom found that the women were "self-selecting" out of IT careers.

Do you know what I love? I love reading the explanations how people like Rosenbloom are all for gender-equality to begin with, but how the studies they conduct come up with findings which suggest it's just not possible. Because everybody who carries out studies about gender has prior beliefs. It's not possible to be human and not to have those. Indeed, most people who study differences by gender believe that they exist and just want to justify them or believe that they don't exist and want to justify that.

To see what stinks in all this, let us take a step backwards, away from this particular article and into the wider field of science politics about gender. All comfortable now? Sit back and notice that the debate about women and numbers has its rough mirror image: the debate about boys' trouble at school. Do you notice anything different in those two big stories? Do you happen to notice, say, that we never read someone writing that maybe boys just self-select away from education? Maybe they are not just interested in staying at school or in going to college? I don't recall ever reading a single article like that. Nope, all the articles I've read about the topic have as their goal a greater success rate for boys. Boys must be educated! Nobody suggests that they might choose not be educated and that we should honor that free and democratic choice.

But when it comes to girls and science, the story immediately changes. Perhaps it's girls themselves who choose not to become scientists? Perhaps that's Just How Things Are?

The two big stories have other odd differences: The stories about boys-and-schools are mostly about what is wrong with schools that makes boys less than thrive. The stories about girls-and-science are more complicated, often focusing on what is wrong with girls rather than with the culture of science. Or that nothing is wrong at all, because girls just don't want to do science.

Mmm. Are you still sitting comfortably in that nice room called the politics of gender studies? Consider the basic argument of the McArdle piece: that women prefer working with people and men with tools and concepts. Let's take it at face value. What should we conclude about our societies if we know this argument but have otherwise arrived from outer space just an hour ago?

Perhaps that all politics should be run by women? Politics is all about people and how people relate to each other, is it not? The military should also be full of women, given that wars are all about interpersonal contact. The television. We should see nothing but female pundits, given women's love of words and people. Most of all, our leaders must be women. Leadership is all about human relationships and human psychology.

That we are not seeing any of this just might suggest to you that the research McArdle quotes is biased and has a hidden intention. What that intention is I leave for you to figure out.


Finally, consider that false dualism between "likes tools and machines" and "likes to work with people". Almost all work involves tools and machines and almost all work involves working with people. A dentist uses tools in the mouths of people. A physics professor works with people in the classroom or in the laboratory. There are extremely few jobs which are only about tools and machines or only about people. However, in some jobs the people you work with will approve of your presence in that field, whereas in other fields your presence in that field will cause you extra hardship and struggle. Studies like the ones McArdle highlights don't appear to address that issue at all.

But other studies do. For example:

BACK in the bad old days, the workplace was a battleground, where sexist jokes and assumptions were the norm.

Women were shut off from promotion by an old boys' network that favored its own. They went to meetings and were often the only women in the room.

All that has changed in the last three decades, except where it has not. In the worlds of science, engineering and technology, it seems, the past is still very much present.

"It's almost a time warp," said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founder of the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit organization that studies women and work. "All the predatory and demeaning and discriminatory stuff that went on in workplaces 20, 30 years ago is alive and well in these professions."

That is the conclusion of the center's latest study, which will be published in the Harvard Business Review in June.

Based on data from 2,493 workers (1,493 women and 1,000 men) polled from March 2006 through October 2007 and hundreds more interviewed in focus groups, the report paints a portrait of a macho culture where women are very much outsiders, and where those who do enter are likely to eventually leave.

The study was conceived in response to the highly criticized assertion three years ago, by the then-president of Harvard, that women were not well represented in the science because they lacked what it took to excel there.

The purpose of the work-life center's survey was to measure the size of the gender gap and to decipher why women leave the science, engineering and technology professions in disproportionate numbers.

The problem isn't that women aren't making strides in education in the hard sciences. According to a National Science Foundation report in 2006, 46 percent of Ph.D. degrees in the biological sciences are awarded to women (compared with 31 percent two decades ago); 31 percent of the Ph.D. degrees in chemistry go to women, compared with 18 percent 20 years ago.

And, women enter science engineering and technology (known as the SET professions) in sizable numbers. In fact, 41 percent of workers on the earliest rungs of SET career ladder are women, the study found, with the highest representation in scientific and medical research (66 percent) and the lowest in engineering (21 percent).

They also do well at the start, with 75 percent of women age 25 to 29 being described as "superb," "excellent" or "outstanding" on their performance reviews, words used for 61 percent of men in the same age group.

An exodus occurs around age 35 to 40. Fifty-two percent drop out, the report warned, with some leaving for "softer" jobs in the sciences human resources rather than lab bench work, for instance, and others for different work entirely. That is twice the rate of men in the SET industries, and higher than the attrition rate of women in law or investment banking.

The reasons pinpointed in the report are many, but they all have their roots in what the authors describe as a pervasive macho culture.

Engineers have their "hard hat culture," while biological and chemical scientists find themselves in the "lab coat" culture and computer experts inhabit a "geek culture." What they all have in common is that they are "at best unsupportive and at worst downright hostile to women," the study said.

So when women "self-select" out of careers in science and engineering, do they do that because they don't like tools and machines or because of the "unsupportive and at worst downright hostile" culture? Or both or neither?

Beats me. But nobody is making a "free choice" without considering what the job would be like, day after day, or without considering the culture of that job.
Do read the story about Finn and Josephine in the NYT article, by the way. Then wonder why this article appears under the heading "Fashion" on the pages of that august newspaper.

Thanks! Or: Psst. I'm Back.

Anthony and Suzie did such a great job minding the Snakepit Inc. that I really wanted to stay asleep for another month or two. I owe them and love them more than chocolate. Thank you!

And thank you, Anthony, for these last years. May the snakes always guard your path and make you healthy, happy and victorious in all you do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I’ve had a request to say why I’m ending things now, during the middle of an important election year. Considering what I’ve urged this is a fair request. If I thought that my blogging was vitally important to defeating the Republican Party this fall I’d continue. To believe my blogging is crucial would open me up to entirely justified accusations of delusions of grandeur. I think that my ability to edit a voters list, stuff envelopes, staple together signs, hell, to set up folding chairs and take them down, are more politically potent than my writing. I am happy to report that the fact I have an accent that makes me sound like the old Maine farmer I am prevents them from pressing me to make calls. Campaign work is a big part of it.

Another part is that I have a serious, chronic health problem which has come back for the second year running. It is rarely life threatening but it does require management. I’ve lost about a fifth of my body weight in the past year, I wasn’t exactly robust before. The resulting fatigue is debilitating and prevents me from researching and writing to the level I’d want. I had considered writing it up as “A Man Who Is Tired Of Oatmeal Is A Man Who Is Tired of Life” but the jokes were strained. Since someone has asked, no, it’s not an infectious disease.

I’ve enjoyed writing for Echidne and participating in her blog community. I especially like the fact that despite her divinity her readers don’t act like a bunch of addled groupies trying to get the popular teacher’s attention. I mean, yech! You know the blogs I’m talking about.

That can’t be said of many of the other blog communities, the snarky tone and increasingly juvenile level of coercive conformity on those, especially surrounding the divisive nomination contest, have taken a tole on both spirit and health. The political blogs are only useful to the extent that they produce results in politics that improve lives and save the environment. In short, winning elections and compromising to make law. In too many cases the essential practicalities of winning in politics are overshadowed on the blogs by other issues ranging from the totally silly to the cruelly asinine. They have the potential to split us and to defeat us both before and after the election. Posing, posturing, pretend progressives prevent progress... sorry, reading Joyce just now.

Anyway, I’m off. Completely off, for the time being. I wish all of you a good year. If I live, I’ll return to blogs. If I die, I’ll go to blogs.

I thank Echidne, Suzie, Blue Lily and the rest of the community here and may send a missive occasionally.

Good bye,

Anthony McCarthy

Penultimate Advice by Anthony McCarthy

My friends, conservatives and other opponents on many blogs have brandished one of the most feared weapons from the armamentarium of those trying to avoid discussing the topic. I have been accused of conceit many times. While I suspect that this is due to my superannuated style of expressing myself, when it's not the Benadryl doing the typing, it's happened often enough to be at least symptomatic of something. I don't have the time to sort it out.

The late John Kenneth Galbraith didn't have much use for the virtue of modesty. He held it to be overrated. He might have been right about that, but more practically, when a leftist lets modesty get in the way they don't fight aggressively for the leftist agenda.

My fellow leftists, please, make the same sacrifice I have. Put aside that most charming of personal traits, demure modesty. It has no place in a brawl and politics is a brawl. If someone, even your inner liberal niceness angel, - mine is an obnoxious, nagging pest named Nat - scolds that you are being immodest, consider it to be a noble and worthwhile sacrifice for the cause. If your angel keeps bugging you, promise it you'll try to cut down on the use of the first person.

Conservatives, motivated only by greed and hate, have much to be modest about. But you don't see them hiding behind the couch.

Have The Courage To Believe You Are Right, Everything Depends On That. by Anthony McCarthy

Do you think that your political positions are morally superior to positions you've rejected? Sounds strange when you put it that way, doesn't it. Why would you hold a position you weren't convinced was morally superior? Only two possibilities come to mind, unthinkingly following tradition and practicing self-interest divorced from morals. There are some positions that seem to be adopted by reason alone but since just about everything government does has an effect on the well being of someone, those certainly have a moral dimension, thought about or not.

The first post on my blog claimed our right to believe the moral superiority of our political positions and their firm base in reason. We have to stop cowering in conditional statements and apologetic poses of false modesty. Those are ineffective, weak and are not honest. It's not our personal virtue that is at question, it doesn't all come down to us. It's that our political positions are firmly grounded in the common good, generosity over greed and facing that large parts of our law favor the wealthy few over the rest with no basis other than that they have the power to bend the law to their liking. If anyone doesn't agree that our positions are superior we should require better arguments than "that's the way it is" and "you're self-righteous" because that's about all there is to most of it.

The fear of asserting the moral superiority of liberalism is that we'll be as obnoxious as William Bennett, that moral exemplar of the right, and the rest of those modern moral exemplars who lecture us continually while enjoying lives that would make ancient Roman aristocrats blanche. Now that Ann Coulter has joined that number there is no doubt that morality or even sanity are not requirements to march in with them. There are people who like to lord their own superiority over other people but they are mighty few on the left as compared to those on the right. Conservatives certainly haven't suffered any ill effects from their being moral nags.

Of course, if we stand behind our convictions they will accuse us of self-righteousness. They do now even when there is a total absence of any assertion of righteousness on our part. As mentioned this is in the face of the tidal wave of finger waving everyone but the wealthy gets from the right wing axis of drivel. They'll do it anyway but why should we listen to them? Are you afraid of annoying conservatives? If one of us gets too full of themselves that 's the time to tell the person to cut it out but it's no reason to stop believing in our positions.

Conservatives, as always, make the mistake of thinking that morality is all about them, an adornment of their sacred selves. That's how they see it and they think that's the way everyone does. But that's their problem, not ours.

People on the left have some great examples to follow. There is no doubt that Martin Luther King had a deep knowledge of his moral failings. There isn't a great moral leader who isn't aware of their flaws. And there were people like J. Edgar Hoover to remind him if he ever forgot. But can you doubt that he had absolute faith in the rightness of his beliefs? He put his life, the lives of his family and friends, the bodies and lives of countless people on the line for those beliefs over and over again. And no one knew more about what that really risked than he did. He knew from experience that some day the attacks he and his family had survived would likely end in one that would kill them. He knew what that looked like, he had seen it with his own eyes. Keeping on with that knowledge doesn't come without complete conviction.

If we don't have the courage to believe in the morality of our positions, we won't ever have the courage to change anything.

Music Primer by Anthony McCarthy

If I had it to do all over again, maybe I should have written more about music, the subject of my professional training. One thing I’d been thinking about but never got around to was saying how much I missed Jan DeGaetani, the singer whose voice and interpretative genius I miss most since her too-early death.

Well, here’s what I can tell you fast.

Never forget that music is sound, it isn’t symbols on a page or words about music. It is the sound, heard and experienced.

Thorough ear training, sight-singing and the ability to accurately write down melodies, harmonies, rhythms that are heard in the ear or head is the most neglected and most useful of academic musical subjects. Usually the piddling courses at universities (way too late to start this training) carry a fractional credit and are given at the same time as full-credit “theory” classes. Without the ear training the “theory” classes would be better substituted by courses in producing clear hand-written scores, that’s about all it ends up being in the end. Universities never change their stupid practices, composers and teachers as fine as Roger Sessions and Paul Hindemith have been railing against this idiocy for longer than they lived. My fellow musicians and students of music, you’re on your own with this subject, even your instrumental or voice teacher isn’t going to teach it to you.

Time is short, you have to make choose your learning materials for their practicality and get the most out of those as you learn. Take Bartok’s Mikrokosmos Volume 1. Learn to sing the first six single line melodies, in time - with that rest in the first one - on using fixed do. Then, one by one, learn the entire volume before going on to Volume II. Always used fixed do in its extended form, the one that assigns a single phoneme to each of the natural pitches and each of the sharp and flat ones. “C” is “do”, “F” is “fa”, “Bb” is “te” “Db” is “ra”etc. Since there isn’t one published that I’ve ever found, you’ll need to decide for yourself what syllables to assign to double sharps and flats. Don’t waste your time with moveable do, it is harder to learn and far less useful. In four decades of practicing music I have never once had an instance when my use of fixed do was a practical problem, not a single time. Use what is most practical for you as an individual musician, what is learned most easily which works is the one to go with.

Learn all of the melodies in the first volume of the Mikrokosmos this way, memorize them, play them on your instrument and on a keyboard. Studying the Mikrokosmos is a great way to begin learning to play a keyboard. If you pursue a major in music you’re going to have to use it anyway.

Transpose the melodies you learn on your instrument and on the keyboard gradually to all the keys. Go as gradually as you need to, don’t spend much more than a quarter of an hour a day on this. Use appropriate fingerings for your hands. Transposing these melodies carefully is an easy way to learn the very practical and neglected skill of transposition, these pieces are perfect for that. Learn the sight-singing intervals for the transpositions as you practice this, either singing them away from the instrument or “thinking” them as you play the piece. This is the most basic and essential foundation to harmony and counterpoint, it is vastly more important and useful than anything you’ll learn from pouring through “Piston” unprepared. Never sing along with your playing, sing-along piano players are a blight on the art of music.

Learn all of the scales, modes and chords of western common practice on the fixed-do syllables. You will learn a lot more doing this than in producing those useless note-drawing exercises of university “theory” classes. You might be better off learning them from a jazz harmony book than from any “classical” source I’ve discovered. Learn them all starting with triads and their inversions, learning the 7th chords, then the various others, through 9th and at least to 13th chords. Then sing them as arppegios singly, and in succession with other chords. Again, use a jazz harmony book or just a fake book if you can’t find others. Chords, modes, scales, jazz musicians deal with those more directly than most classical musicians who reproduce what the composer has put on the page. Don’t strain your voice, you can always “sing” them in your head, checking the pitch on an instrument.

Learn to play rhythms, rock solid, no excuses, starting slowly, increasing the metronome speed gradually. You can learn a lot of technique by just playing things in time. You will often find that tension is actually enhanced by the exigencies of in tempo playing that get diluted in the lazy “rubato” self-indulgences explained by inferior musicians as “expressing themselves”. If you’re a classical player you’re supposed to be expressing the composer, not yourself. The composer knew how to write tempo indications in the music where they want them, what makes you think you know better than them? Of course, this isn’t subject to a hard and fast rule but you should always be able to play something in strict time, then the choice is available to you to make instead of using “expression” as an excuse for sloppy, diluted playing.

I could go on, the subject is endless. I’d suggest reading Ralph Kirkpatrick’s book about the Well Tempered Clavier but only after you’ve gone through at least the first two volumes of the Mikrokosmos the way I advocate above first. You don’t know how much I am aching to go into learning species counterpoint just now.

Deja Vu or Lessons Learned In Practical Politics by Anthony McCarthy

The gay marriage decision in California coming in a presidential election year carries some deja vu baggage, the one in Massachusetts didn’t do John Kerry any favors. The issue will be used by Republicans appealing to their base of bigots. The irony of having someone like McCain who dumped his first wife running against a candidate, either of whose first marriages seems solid and committed, on the basis of “marriage protection” might carry a few opportunities that Kerry didn’t have but the issue will eat into time spent on stronger ones for Democrats. It’s an issue that would have been better brought in an off-year. But we’ve got what the court schedule in California provided to us.

This time, at least, there is the opportunity to point to the fact that in Massachusetts the issue didn’t lead to broken, woman-man marriages. I’d try arguing that perhaps MA, as the least divorced state, actually was demonstrating how pro-marriage it is by extending the right to lesbians and gay men. I couldn’t find the statistics for the period after the court ruling, but it should be possible to show there wasn’t an epidemic of straight divorce following their Supreme Court decision. Barney Frank’s pointing out that those against equal rights are arguing against people who want to be gainfully employed, have the right to serve their country in the military and have legally sanctioned marriages.

Protecting the decision in California will hinge on lobbying the grass roots, if the bigots get their ballot initiative, which they probably will. This should be an example of the necessity of doing that in the end, anyway. Winning these cases in state courts isn’t really the end, it’s the middle step in the process. It was due only to the peculiarities of the Massachusetts rules governing referendums that prevented the issue of civil rights of a minority being subjected to the whim of the majority. We can’t count on that in many states, we can’t count on the state courts or legislatures in most places. I hope no one is still depending on the U.S. Supreme Court after the increasingly regressive post Warren court. In the end this issue is going to depend on the publics’ acceptance of it and that will not come from anything other than presenting them with the positive reality of individual marriages. It’s encouraging to see that some of the folks in California get it.

"What we've seen in the example of Massachusetts is personalize, personalize, personalize," said Stuart Gaffney, 45, who, with his partner, John Lewis, was a plaintiff in the California case. "When this issue is personalized, people understand it's about our common humanity and about our shared desire to marry the person you love. And when it's more abstract, that works against us."

It’s going to take that approach everywhere and it’s going to be up against the gaudiest, raunchiest images and stupidest things said by self-involved jerks that can be pinned on gay people in general. They will provide the anti-equality side with some of their most useful stuff. But I’ve made that argument here this weekend already.

Note: Look at this as the practical reality of protecting equal rights on the basis of individual cases and contrast it with the lumping of individuals into averages by social science in this article about unequal representation of women in the hard sciences and technology, also in today’s Boston Globe. Which approach do you think is more likely to result in increased opportunities and free choices for individuals and which is going to be used as a tool for propping up an unequal status quo? Notice, when you read the article, how even as the author cites insurmountable complications in gathering data and how they would have had to leave aside some crucial facts in the lives of the individuals purported to comprise their study, the reduction in the end seems simple when it certainly isn't. You're more likely to increase civil rights protection going with individual examples people can see than in providing an oversimplified result of numbers crunching. It's in the individual cases that the inequity expresses itself, not in the lump generalization.