Monday, July 07, 2008

The Silent Thunder

That is your koan for the day.

I have a few favorite puzzles in my head, the types of questions which entertain me on rainy days or in the dentist's waiting room or while at a boring meeting. One of those is this paradox: According to various anti-feminist science writers girls are good with words and boys are good with numbers and pinning butterflies against the wall and so on, and this is why there are so few women in hard sciences, so stop complaining about it you nasty feminazis. But where are all those women so eloquent and good with words? That's the interesting puzzle.

An example of these vanishing women is given in Anne Trubeck's piece entitled The Queens of Nonfiction*. A snippet:

Ira Glass, host of the radio and television program This American Life, claims that nonfiction is the most important and impressive art form of our day: "We're living in an age of great nonfiction writing, in the same way that the 1920s and 30s were a golden age for American popular song. Giants walk among us, Cole Porters and George Gershwins and Duke Ellingtons of nonfiction storytelling."

To commemorate and canonize this golden age, Glass compiled an anthology of some of the best nonfiction writing. The paperback original, published last fall, with proceeds benefiting a nonprofit tutoring center, received prime display space in many bookstores. Its title: The New Kings of Nonfiction.

Huh? Glass is a trailblazing icon of alternative, indie culture, a very with-it, 21st-century guy. What was he thinking? Why did he choose a gender-specific title for his book?


A few years ago, two women — Ruth Davis Konigsberg, a writer and former editor at Glamour, and Elizabeth Merrick, director of a women's literary reading series — tallied the ratio of male to female contributors at those four magazines on their own Web sites. The numbers called attention to a significant gender disparity. According to Konigsberg, on, during a 12-month period (from September 2005 to September 2006), there were 1,446 men's bylines and 447 women's bylines. At Harper's, the ratio was nearly seven to one, at The New Yorker four to one, and at The Atlantic 3.6 to one.

I did my own tally. From May 2007 through May 2008, Harper's published 232 men and 51 women (a ratio of about 4.5 to one) and The Atlantic published 158 men to 49 women (a ratio of about three to one). In 2008, The New Yorker has published 185 men and 51 women (about 3.5 to one). Things are not getting much better.

As disheartening as those statistics are, closer inspection of what women do publish in such magazines makes the disparity even more disturbing. Many of the women's contributions are not features. (At The New Yorker, they might be a Talk of the Town piece, a poem, a cartoon, or a dance review.) And many are about being a woman. For example, the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic contains three substantial pieces by women. One, by Eliza Griswold, is both political and reported, and it does not integrate her personal experience. But the other two use personal experiences to make claims about women's lives. And in an almost absurd twist, both argue that women should start settling for less.

I love the way that quote ends, because I have for long observed the de-feminizing (sort of like de-licing) that is going on at Atlantic Monthly. It started with a few new editors and the installation of Caitlyn Flanagan and it seems to have gone on mercilessly ever since, so that the Atlantic is now the go-to-place for really good examples of woman-blaming and for answers to the old question What Ails The Women.

But to return to Trubek's piece: She makes a point which the anti-feminist science popularizes never address within the basic theory they use for women and hard sciences, the one which argues for different genetic talent distributions. Instead, trying to explain the scarcity of women in the field they supposedly ace requires drawing on one of the other explanations in their tool kits. Male aggression and competitiveness, say. But of course then one wonders why that can't be used to explain what goes on in the hard sciences, too. Why hit women with two different hammers?

I'll leave the answer to that for you to contemplate. Trubek takes all the possible explanations for the vanishing writer women more seriously (probably because she hasn't spent so much time hearing them already), and largely goes for the gendered division of labor as the explanation why the Daring Boy Reporters Infiltrating Al-Qaeda (to make up an example she didn't use) are not Daring Girl Reporters (though a burqa would be an advantage there if Al-Qaeda ever decided to admit women):

Also like Glass, Boynton celebrates how this generation is reinventing "the way one gets the story. … They've developed innovative immersion strategies (Ted Conover worked as a prison guard for his book Newjack and lived as a hobo for Rolling Nowhere) and extended the time they've spent reporting (Leon Dash followed the characters in Rosa Lee for five years)."

That may be the rub — especially considering the self-described lives of Tsing Loh and Gott-lieb: Female writers are busy raising children. It is hard to climb Mount Everest or become a hobo when you have to pick the kids up from school every day at 3:30.

Speaking about paradoxes worthy of contemplation, have you noticed my recent posts about religion telling women that they shouldn't be bishops and that they really should submit to their husbands and to focus on being wives and mothers? Yet when people like Trubek write about the gendered division of labor we are all expected to act astonished (astonished!) that women choose to do such things, all by their little selves. They just don't want to climb Mount Everest in the search of a good story, to be then crowned the Kings of Nonfiction (and also to be blamed for child abandonment if they happen to be mother-women).

And however hard editors work to find women who'd write about nonfiction topic, alas, they cannot be found. They are all hiding, in Plain Sight.

I'm not trying to release women from any responsibility for failing to submit as much as men do. Of course women should submit more stories. The trick is to stop thinking that they aren't good enough. Have a look at David Brooks' columns in the New York Times, and your heart will soar with confidence. When the rejections come, start collecting them by the type and frame the guest bath with them. One day all your visitors will get a good laugh while sitting there, considering that it's the bathroom of the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. Well, thinking that way helps.
*Trubek's column can be read for five days without subscription. I guess that means until 7/9/08.

Deep Thoughts About Garage Cleaning

I did some garage cleaning yesterday, and now feel morally righteous. Why is that? The reason must be something not-very-nice, because when I really act morally I don't feel that good.

In any case, I found some mathematical manuscripts of mine there, all shredded by mice to make a comfy nest for their babies, and there's a deep message in that, too. Maybe seeing all those integral signs on the nest walls made the mouse babies ever so good in the hard sciences?

And the newly empty garage space! The empty space is the important part, just as old Lao Tse said. Also the newly washed garage windows, though Lao Tse probably said nothing about that.

If First You Fail Then Try Again

For some weird reason that insists to be the title of this post. What does it think it's saying here? If you fail to get raped, try again, maybe? Not sure.

What I'm writing about is this from Shoot The Messenger:

We conducted a pre-interview with Tracie who writes about sex and pop culture for Jezebel under the name "Slut Machine." When you click on "Slut Machine" you are linked to her personal blog that regales her readers with "no detail left behind" accounts of her sexual experiences.
Moe writes about politics and sex as well and combines pop culture with it all and was not available for a pre-interview. Tracie assured us she would be cool with anything we talked about in the feminist, political arena, that she was an expert on China, and that they had been talking a lot about rape lately.
They were emailed a show description with links to past interviews and we were all set.

I don't know if they came to the show drunk, or just ended up drunk by the time they hit the stage, but what I do know is that the discussion that ensued was deeply disturbing to me for a few reasons:

Because they had no regard for the people who came that night and paid money to hear them speak.
They do not understand the influence they have over the women who read them, nor do they accept any responsibility as role models for young women who are coming of age searching for lifestyles to emulate.

Even as one young woman who attended the show voiced her disappointment on her own blog, when Moe and Tracie commented on the entry, she was so excited that she backpedaled her criticism.

Here are the two relevant clips. (You can get the whole interview here.):

I can see how outrageously funny it might be to say that guys who are not considering rape are pussies or how coitus interruptus works as well as a condom, especially against venereal disease. I can even appreciate the shock value of something like that. And the world-weary attitude is a time-honored one to take. Christopher Hitchens does the male version really well, for instance.

At the same time, it's sort of dangerous to imply that women who get date-raped are not just intuitive enough to sniff out potential rapists. This used to be called victim-blaming; a pretty safety blanket for those who think it then can't happen to them.

It's also dangerous not to appear to know the facts about contraception and the incidence of rape and so on.

Now, I'm all for playing the game, if you wish. But if you pick up a sport of some kind, say, boxing or casual sex, you really should learn the rules and practice the moves and know what to anticipate beforehand. Had I gone to my karate sparring matches completely unprepared I would have been whupped so bad. So yes, you can play, but first learn what the game is, what the offense consists of and what your defense should look like. These ladies are not telling you that part.
I should add that I like lots of the posts on Jezebel, and that this post is not intended as an indictment of the blog. Or as an indictment of anything, really. See how meek I am?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

An Act of War (by Phila)

The Right blogosphere has been very excited, lately, about reports that members of the Mexican army "invaded" a home in Phoenix and murdered its occupant (who appears to have been a drug dealer). The initial impetus for this story came from wingnut radio host (and former congressman) J.D. Hayworth, who got the story from Mark Spencer of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Spencer backed his theory up with a hearsay report that appeared in internal memos from the Phoenix Police Department, which he posted online (apparently in defiance of department policy).

Spencer's claim was then picked up by Fox News, which helpfully included a link to Hayworth's interview. Soon enough, bloggers were announcing that the Mexican Army had crossed the border to invade Phoenix, and calling it "an act of war."

As the story reverberated through hundreds of empty heads, it got weirder and more outrageous. All-American Blogger, for instance, concluded that "Mexican drug cartels are hiring members of the Mexican military to come across the border with full tactical gear and kill Phoenix police officers in their own homes," [emphasis added] and also informed Free Republic's elite cadre of revolutionaries and dialecticians that the "Mexican Military [is] Raiding The Homes of Phoenix Police Officers."

Both the ICE and the Phoenix PD have denied that any of the suspects were members of the Mexican military. However, Hayworth's radio station has phrased the denials in such a way that they'll confirm the darkest suspicions of immigrant-hatin' paranoiacs:
Phoenix police also did not confirm whether the men were from the military despite internal documents showing that they were.
In fact, these "internal documents" show only that one of the suspects claimed to be a member of the Mexican military. However, by cutting out that attribution, it's easy enough to represent it as the secret, publicly disavowed belief of the Phoenix PD.

And of course, official denials pose no problem at all for those who wish to believe this was an incursion by Mexican military personnel. On the contrary, the denials prove that the story is basically correct...or better yet, from the standpoint of emotional satisfaction, that the situation is much worse than they're letting on. This is the sort of narrative for which only two types of evidence exist: compelling and overwhelming.

Which is why stories like this one put the White House in something of a bind. If it denies that the Mexican military is crossing the border to murder American citizens, it's part of the conspiracy. And if it claims to be concerned, any action it takes that fails to satisfy the "border security" crowd's bottomless appetite for authoritarian brutality, bigotry, and stupidity will be rejected as capitulation or worse.

In my more dour moods, I assume that Bush's ability to enrage the Left still commands some superstitious respect among the gun hoarders and hyperpatriots and racists whom the Administration has played for suckers, even as a steady diet of unfalsifiable rumors and violent rhetoric brings their hysteria and hatred closer to the boiling point. It's easy to imagine things deteriorating once a more..."traditional" enemy of America takes office.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Totally Crazy (by Phila)

Kathryn Jean Lopez:
A totally crazy Saturday-morning thought: Wouldn't George W. Bush make an awesome high-school government teacher? Wouldn't it be something if his post-presidential life would up being that kind of post-service service? How's that for a model? Who needs Harvard visiting chairs and high-end lectures? How about Crawford High? (Or wherever?) Reach out and touch the young before they are jaded, or break them of the cynicism pop culture and possibly their parents have passed down to them.
Unless the last eight years were a horrible dream, George W. Bush weakened restrictions on air pollution under the Clear Skies Act, turned forests over to loggers under the Healthy Forests Initiative, detained prisoners indefinitely in the name of the law, tortured people in the name of civilization, censored scientists in the name of objectivity, alienated allies in the name of security, and is occupying another country in the name of freedom.

About the only thing he could possibly do to reduce American cynicism, at this point, would be to turn himself in at the nearest police station. (A totally crazy Saturday-afternoon thought, I know, and just about as plausible as K-Lo's fantasy.)

Anyway, while we're waiting for Bush to embark on his life of "post-service service," we mustn't forget to sneer at people who praise Jimmy Carter for building houses.

Obama, abortion and illusions (by Suzie)

      I was leisurely catching up on Shakesville last night when I saw people commenting on how feminist blogs are failing to discuss Obama's recent comments on abortion. Tsk, tsk, I thought. Then: Oh, damn, that's me. 
      I hope no one thought that I had the automated system replace "serious issues" with "Chihuahuas" yesterday. Automation was involved, however. I often write my posts in advance and schedule them for Friday, my usual blogging day.
     I can't keep up with the progressive (and I mean that in two senses of the word) disappointments over Obama. (See this NYT editorial.) Clinton supporters understood that she is a politician, and we knew her positions. But a lot of progressives thought that Obama was different, that he was above partisan politics, that he shared their views. 
     Some thought the same of Bill Clinton before he was elected president, and they ended up feeling angry and betrayed by some of his policies and actions. This colored some people's reaction to Hillary's race for the nomination. Now the cycle is repeating itself with Obama.
      I wish we could break free from the media game of building up people and then tearing them down. I don't mean that we shouldn't discuss Obama's faults, or problems with his policies. I mean that people shouldn't have turned him into the next American idol because that guaranteed disappointment would follow.
      I also see parallels with people hoping that Michelle will straighten out Barack on certain issues. Who knows. Is she a feminist?
"You know, I'm not that into labels," Michelle Obama said in the interview. "So probably, if you laid out a feminist agenda, I would probably agree with a large portion of it," she said. "I wouldn't identify as a feminist just like I probably wouldn't identify as a liberal or a progressive." 
          As an adult, I've always been to the left of our presidents. For me, this election is like many others: I'll vote for a person who can win and who comes closest to my views, knowing that I need to keep working on other issues that he won't support.
        For interesting comments on Obama and abortion, Shakesville has a good discussion. You also may enjoy this post on faith-based organizations at Pam's House Blend. I'm looking forward to a fundamental Christian group training a pagan nonprofit to run a preschool program.

Three Intimations.
The hydrangea tree blooming over the old graves on the rise in the cemetery are the only flowers there. Bent and twisted by the winds and winter, there isn’t a time it wasn’t there. Afternoon wind.
There is nothing whiter than the evening lychnis at dusk. Dry summer.
So still tonight the moonlight is the loudest thing.

Anthony McCarthy: 1978

Noted Without Comment (by Phila)

The latest findings:
A study was conducted to assess whether individual differences in sexual activity during the past 30 days, in particular penile–vaginal intercourse (PVI; which is associated with measures of relationship quality), are related to the perception of the facial attractiveness of unknown men. Forty-five women reported the frequency of a variety of sexual behaviors and rated the facial attractiveness and friendliness of 24 men. Women who reported more frequent orgasm from masturbation rated men as less friendly. This finding might be reflective of the more anti-social attitude associated with more frequent masturbation. The results also show that women who engaged more frequently in most kinds of sexual behavior, not only PVI, considered unknown men to be less facially attractive. That is, individuals who engage more frequently in a variety of sexual behaviors with their partner perceived unknown men as less attractive and thereby may be less susceptible to the lure of other (or if the only sexual behavior is masturbation, any) men.

Supply-Side Shortages (by Phila)

Somehow, Terry Easton has gotten wise to our plans:
You would think that this story is right out of science fiction. But the facts appear to be that the US Democrat-controlled Congress intends to destroy the Republican middle class with $11 per gallon gasoline.

The Democrats’ base -- wealthy white “limousine liberals”, and very poor people -- won’t be harmed, but the families who live in suburbia will be devastated.
Easton left out a few important details. It's not just the Republican middle class we're after; we also need to destroy hungry seniors, whose traditional values pose an obstacle to the acceptance of mandatory same-sex marriage. Underprivileged children and the disabled are another target (Peter Singer absolutely insisted on it, and you know how hard it is to say "no" to him). Higher gas prices will also thwart efforts to control malaria, which will be a fitting tribute to the spirit of Rachel Carson.

Then there are cabbies. How are we supposed to create a socialist wonderland while counterrevolutionaries like these are able to buy food and pay their bills? Eleven-dollar gas is the least these running-dog lackeys to the bourgeoisie deserve. Last, crippling the production and distribution of fireworks will strike a deadly blow against patriotism, just when it's needed most.

The article goes on to explain that limousine liberals have thwarted efforts to drill in ANWR and along the coasts, and concludes with this dirge for human freedom:
Oil sells for $145 per barrel mostly because of artificially-created supply-side shortages. A small part of its price is also determined by speculators and uncertainty over a future cut-off of oil from the middle east that a war with Iran could cause. Assuming that Iran’s nuclear bomb program is destroyed by Israel this fall -- with or without America’s help - look for oil to spike up to $250-300.
Indeed. I think it's fair to say that things are proceeding quite nicely, don't you?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Fourth Of July Fireworks

The picture was taken by a friend of mine a few years ago.

Friday Critter Blogging: Deconstructing Disney (by Suzie)

        Now that I’ve become a Chihuahuaphile, I can’t resist Disney’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” opening Oct. 3. I wish I could enjoy the little dancing dogs in peace, without seeing how the movie reinforces the patriarchy. But that’s the problem when you swallow the red pill; you can no longer watch fluff without deconstructing it.
         As Joss Whedon said: "People used to laugh that academics would study Disney movies. There’s nothing more important for academics to study, because they shape the minds of our children possibly more than any single thing."
         In the upcoming movie, a “spoiled” little white Chihuahua from Beverly Hills gets “lost in the mean streets of Mexico” and ends up guided by a bigger, darker, lustful Chihuahua. (I hope this isn’t “Swept Away” for Chihuahuas.) Guess which is male and which is female?
         Many people covet the smallest Chihuahuas. Because it’s often easier for bigger dogs to give birth, a lot of teeny-tiny males get bred to bigger females. (My “retired breeder” is one of these BBWs.) When you anthropomorphize dogs, however, I guess you have to stick to the conventions that say males must be bigger. At least Disney didn't make the female Chihuahua pink.
          On the Disney site, the synopsis tells the story of a female finding her footing, with the assistance of male dogs. But the trailer focuses on the male dog, with the female as accessory. Disney has to be careful not to lose too many boy viewers.
         Before the trailer came out, Disney started a viral video campaign featuring the male dog as revolutionary. He speaks of Chihuahuas as if all are male, and these males must reclaim their dignity after being carried in purses. They can no longer take orders from female dogs, either.
         Is Disney making fun of machismo? Riffing on the insecurity of men who fear being “feminized”? I wish everyone would see it that way. 
         You can catch the viral video (which really is funny) on Dog Art Today, where Moira McLaughlin discusses how artists have stolen from one another, in regard to dogs and revolutions. One of those artists, Kevin McCormick, says he has been calling on Chihuahuas to revolt for years.
         Mark Derr says small dogs are stigmatized as women’s pets. Bigger dogs are associated with men and work, such as herding sheep or finding prey for hunters. But a Chihuahua? It's just a companion, and being a companion has little value in our society.
        But hey, happy Fourth of July. Thank the goddess that I don't have a yappy dog that would bark every few minutes, when the fireworks go off. 

Roundup on women and media (by Suzie)

        Recently, I blogged about whether we can simply “add women and stir.” That concept came back to me as I was reading a news release from the International Women’s Media Foundation, which is honoring women who have continued coverage despite harsh conditions and death threats.
        These women deserve to be honored. But it’s not enough to honor women who risk their lives to do what men do. We also must value women who write about the stuff of women’s lives, the sorts of stories that get little coverage in mainstream media. The foundation helps make this possible by offering training and other resources.
          On the subject of female journalists who enter male-dominated areas: "Gillian Anderson will star in and produce a biopic of Martha Gellhorn, a trailblazing female war correspondent who covered conflicts from the Spanish Civil War to Vietnam," according to Variety. Can't wait for this? Then I hope you've already seen the movie about Irish journalist Veronica Guerin.
          (By the way, I'm always amused when writers feel the need to modify a job title with "female" even though it should be obvious from the context. I think readers can figure out that Gellhorn was a female correspondent by her name and the fact that she's being portrayed by a woman.)          
          I got the link on Gellhorn, as well as a lot of other news, from the Women's Media Center. It co-sponsored a forum titled "From Soundbites to Solutions: Bias, Punditry and the Press in the 2008 Election." It has video on its Web site.
          An article on the forum notes that women comprised 91 percent of the audience. Although women have a lot to discuss with one another, in regard to the forum's topic, we need more men interested.

What is art? (by Suzie)

       I made the mistake of taking a doctoral-level philosophy class on this topic, and I thought we covered every angle. But somehow we missed serving sushi on a naked woman. The St. Petersburg Times has a story and photo about a restaurant that does this. (OK, the woman isn't entirely naked. She wears "the smallest of G-strings and tiny flower-shaped pasties.") Invoking Picasso, the chef calls it his "expression of art." The art is enhanced by "two women dressed in skimpy school girl outfits danc[ing] on either side of the model."
         Most historians agree naked sushi — Nyotaimori (Japanese for "female body presentation") — started several hundred years ago in the geisha culture.
Critics say it eventually became less about the art and more about titillation. Now, even in the country where it originated, the event is conducted privately or in the red light districts.
         Naked sushi — banned in China because officials say it's unhygienic and infringes on women's rights — made its way to the United States in the early 1990s. It started in California and was featured in the movie Rising Sun ...
          What message do I get from this art? That women are decorative and functional objects, like fine china.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Music After Storm

Nina Simone: Here Comes The Sun.

More On Fertility Treatment

Suzie's post on the question whether society should pay for poor women's fertility treatment provoked a lot of interesting comments. Every time I read them I had this odd feeling that I should comment on something that is relevant but I couldn't quite get it.

Today I did, and the comment I want to make is that it is not only women who suffer from infertility problems. Around forty percent of all infertility experienced by couples is due to problems with the man. Yet when we discuss infertility and its treatments we see it as a problem for women, almost exclusively. Now why is that?

It could be that it's easier to treat male infertility or that it's not treatable at all. It could be that couples who suffer from male infertility just get sperm from a donor and so those cases never appear in the records of fertility clinics. Or it could be that we see all fertility as somehow all about women.

But surely some infertile men yearn for their own biological child, too. Or do they?

Pop Polygamy

I had a tough time deciding what to think about this article:

Polygamy's pop-culture moment now extends to the closet. FLDS women are offering their handmade, old-fashioned children's clothing for sale online - long underwear, slips and all.

At, pastel-pink dresses and denim overalls mirror the clothing that intrigued the nation when authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas in April, taking children into custody while investigating charges of underage marriage and child abuse.

There are $65 "teen princess" dresses that stretch from ankle to wrist, long pajamas and matching robes, all sewn by the mothers themselves, even some in Arizona's own polygamist enclave of Colorado City.

Sales of the clothing will help the Texas FLDS women pay rent and support their families. Now displaced from their homes at the ranch, most of them are still in the midst of a child-abuse investigation, and lawyers have advised them to establish their own households.

Mothers originally created the site so Texas officials could get FLDS-approved clothing for the children while they were in state custody. Turns out other people were interested, too.

"We're used to our clothing not being popular," said Maggie Jessop, 44, an FLDS member who helps coordinate the sewing efforts. "(But) we've had many, many people say that they would like to have their children be more modest and have expressed interest in our modest lifestyle."

"There were a lot of people that asked, 'Where can I purchase those clothes?' " said Cynthia Martinez, spokeswoman for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents 48 of the mothers.

Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office, finds the FLDS women's fashion offerings quite smart.

"It's very clever," he said. "With all the issues that are going on, most of the media attention has been about the way they dress and the way they wear their hair.

"I give them credit for going where the interest is."

In some ways it's a prime example of how difficult it is for women in traditionally patriarchal systems to make a living on their own, because most of them are not allowed to learn marketable skills. That these women can make some money out of making clothing is certainly wonderful, though how much they actually get is unclear from the article. We all know that textile workers are not terribly well paid.

At least this business offers some women a chance to survive outside the church, should they wish to do so, right? However:

Carolyn Jessop applauds the women for finding a way to support themselves and tiptoe toward independence.

"When 100 percent of their (financial) support is coming from the (FLDS) church, that makes them 100 percent dependent on the church," she said. "If they realize they have a skill that is marketable ... they might realize they could do it outside of the church."

Familiar with FLDS financial practices, Carolyn is concerned that the funds the women earn with their clothing sales won't end up in the mothers' pockets.

According to an FLDS spokesman, the women are paid per item sewn, and if they draw in more revenue than is needed to cover expenses, it is shared with other families.

"If people who purchase (the clothing) would at least request that they make the check out to the woman who made the garment," Carolyn said, "then this could be a really positive thing."

Is all this a positive development or not? When did we start thinking about polygamous systems such as this one as part of the popular culture, as something that is fun to imitate? When did we let people like Warren Jeffs decide what "modesty" might be?

The FLDS wardrobe puzzled and captivated America as events unfolded in Texas. The poufed hairstyles, long dresses and buttoned-up shirts are mandated by jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who disallows patterned fabric and the color red. The FLDS members wear the clothing as a symbol of their faith.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is part of a group that split from the Mormon Church in 1890 over the practice of polygamy. Those who have fled the polygamist sect have long accused it of conducting underage marriages and other abuse.

Jeffs was convicted in September of being an accomplice to rape, charges stemming from his role in marrying a girl to her first cousin.

Suddenly the idea of these outfits signifying "modesty" made me feel nauseous. It's Warren Jeffs who decides what these women and men wear. It's Warren Jeffs who bans the color red but not the forced marrying of little girls to old men as one of their multiple wives.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Today's Funny

This one, about Tyson Gay's great race, as seen through the glasses of an anti-gay news site which automatically converts "gay" to "homosexual":

Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has.

His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing.

"It means a lot to me," the 25-year-old Homosexual said. "I'm glad my body could do it, because now I know I have it in me."

Hat tip to Rorshach.

Hitchens and Waterboarding

He tells us about his experiences being tortured. Somehow I have the impression that he used to be in the other camp about waterboarding: seeing it as not any worse than getting off the wagon before this little test? Note that in any case actually being waterboarded in interrogations would have an additional layer of horror because there the torturee is not in control of the process.

Who would have thought eight years ago that I would today write about the U.S. government applying medieval forms of torture and that there is an actual debate about whether they are torture or not?

How many ways did Osama bin Laden win? You might want to count them, starting with turning a somewhat free and democratic society into something much more closely resembling a police state, continuing with the loss of habeas corpus and the idea of pre-emptive warfare.

Studying the "Opt-Out" Revolution

Kathy G. has blogged about a new study which suggests that women in general or educated women in particular are not opting out of the labor force at any higher rates than in the past, rather the reverse.

I really should read the studies on the "opt-out" revolution (about the labor market hours of women with children) and write a post on them. For various good reasons the topic isn't that easy to analyze.

For instance, whenever employment goes down as a whole, because of an economic slump, some people write about the corresponding drop in mothers' employment as evidence of opting out. Yet when the slump is over those same mothers (and all the other workers who were laid off) are quite likely to return to the labor market. But nobody writes about that return as proof that "opting out" has ended. So if you read popular articles on educated women quitting work you will get the impression that it's happening a lot, and part of the reason for that impression is that nobody writes the articles to tell us about educated women going to work or returning to work.

I'm not arguing here that there is no change in mothers' labor market participation rates in the recent years. Neither am I arguing that there is. Hence the reason to spend some time with the studies.

What I do know, however, is that the articles on "opting-out" which have appeared in such august places as the New York Times are not based on careful research of overall trends but on thinking that such an article would be interesting and on contacting suitable people for interviews. The problem with this is, of course, that I could make up a trend about something, too, and then find people who reflect that made-up trend in their behavior. Trends can't be studied by looking only at people among your acquaintances, unless your acquaintances just happen to be a perfect microcosm of the world in general.

More importantly, there is a hidden emotional undertone to these stories, and the undertone has to do with "opting-out" being voluntary, something that all mothers just really want to do, something that has nothing to do with the meager maternity leaves or the general lack of support for mothers in general, or the idea that all childcare is the responsibility of women or the way work is structured to match traditional male roles. These mothers just wanted to opt out, and that means there's no problem for anyone else, thoughofcoursewenowwonderifwomenshouldtakeplacesfrommenincollege.

Err. Don't know how that got in there. In any case, Kathy's post discusses an interesting reason for the general belief that "opting-out" is common among educated women, whatever statistics might tell us:

Yet, in spite of these strong and consistent findings, the myth of the "opt-out revolution" persists. Perhaps the most interesting part of Percheski's paper is the section that explores why this is so. First, she says, for women, having children does continue to be associated with lower levels of employment, and even though more professional women are working than ever before, many of them still don't work full-time, year-round.

Related to this, since there are more professional working women than ever before, "there are more women available to exit." Writes Percheski:

The average person is thus more likely to personally know a professional woman who has left the labor force. A woman who does not work full-time and long hours may now seem anomalous and be more noticeable than the thousands of professional women who are working full-time in demanding jobs while raising young children. Additionally, although the percentage of women with advanced degrees who are not working is declining across cohorts, the percentage of non-working women who have an advanced degree is growing because the whole population is becoming more educated.

Did you get it? Of course the quasi-trend manufacture also helps. For some reason women tend to be the focus of a lot of them. "Educated women can't get married" is another which crops up at great frequency even when statistics don't support it. I'm sure you can think of others, once you figure out that the main point of them is to highlight the return to traditional gender roles.

Poor Haloscan

It appears to have died. I hope that is not true and that comments appear in short order, all hearty and hale.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Time To Move To The Center

That's the usual assumption about what happens after the presidential party primaries are over. The candidates stop courting their respective bases and start wooing the muddy middle of the so-called independent voters.

Thus, we should start seeing McCain sometimes sounding like a liberal (eek!) and Obama sometimes sounding like George Bush. We should. So far I have only seen Obama move to the right at a fairly good trot. Nothing corresponding appears to have happened to McCain.

The latest example of Obama's general election campaign shift is this:

Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans that would expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and — in a move sure to cause controversy — support their ability to hire and fire based on faith.

That last sentence means that religious providers of various social services can discriminate in their hiring decisions and still get tax money perhaps paid into the system by the very people who couldn't get jobs with those providers. I'm not happy with this. Not happy at all, especially given the other religion posts I've written today.

Obama is thousand times better than McCain (who is now openly expressing his contempt for unions and minimum wages and such), make no mistake about that. But we need to keep reminding him of the issues which matter to us.

Church Within Church And Feminist Musings

No, it's not Opus Dei within the Catholic Church this time, but the suggestion in Britain to protect those Anglican ministers who don't want to serve under female bishops:

MORE than 1300 clergy, including 11 serving bishops, have written to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to say that they will defect from the Church of England if women are consecrated bishops.
As the wider Anglican Communion fragments over homosexuality, England's established church is moving towards its own crisis with a crucial vote on women bishops this weekend.

In a letter to Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, seen by The Times, the signatories give warning that they will consider leaving the Church if two crucial votes are passed to introduce female bishops.

The Church's moderate centre is being pressured as never before by evangelicals opposed to gays and traditionalists opposed to women's ordination.

The crisis is unprecedented since the Reformation devastated the Roman Catholic Church in England in the 16th century.

The General Synod, the Church's governing body, meets in York on Friday where clergy will decide whether legislation to consecrate women should be introduced, and whether it should have legal safeguards for traditionalists or a simple voluntary code to protect them.

The signatories to the letter - who represent 10 per cent of all practising clergy and hundreds of recently retired priests still active in the Church - will only accept women bishops if they have a legal right to separate havens within the Church.

I had to read the story to the very end to find this:

At the same time, 1276 women clergy, 1012 male clergy and 1916 lay church members who support women bishops signed a statement objecting to the prospect of "discriminatory" legislation to safeguard opponents.

It's more interesting to focus on those who are opposed to female bishops than those who are for them, even if the latter are more in numbers.

By the way, today seems to have become my "religion-hates-women" day, mainly because religion very often does exactly that. I love the Southern Baptist definition of spiritual equality between the sexes as something which absolutely exists (absolutely!), but which somehow has zero implications in the here-and-now world, the only one on which we can look for corroborating evidence. In that world the men are the bosses and there's no way of firing a bad boss.

It's such a masterful concept! Do those Southern Baptist guys ever fear that to actually get those spiritual equality scales even might mean a hereafter where the women rule over men? Looking at the secular rules those guys have a little heavenly affirmative action in the opposite direction would appear to be necessary.

The Anglican case is nowhere as bad. Women can no longer be ministers at all in the Southern Baptist Church. The Anglicans let them minister and are just arguing over their ability to be bishops. The difference is humongous, enormous and gigantic.

Still, consider this odd fact of life: If you read this blog long enough you will find many, many posts on the topic of biological gender differences, how they are studied and how they are popularized, and in those posts I often scream and thunder about the need to control for the cultural effects before trying to study biology. The studies I criticize hardly ever do so. They pretend that women are treated in a perfectly gentlemanly manner (or cave-manly manner) by all and sundry and that nothing at all stops women from running or invading countries, from being the Pope and so on. It's only their itty-bitty genes which make women coy and family-centered and uninterested in casual sex or being bishops.

So these posts on religion serve as a very good reminder that we are slowly clawing ourselves up from a deep, deep well of gender-based restrictions, limitations and oppression, and that the resistance from the rest of the culture is something women have always had to take into account in whatever choices they were left.

Don't Lift The Rocks

Creepy-crawlies will wiggle and wriggle out of there, just like those who left some of the comments on this article:

A Muskegon Heights mother who put poison in her baby's bottle is headed to prison.

Police say Shatara Jones, 19, put bleach and another cleaner in her child's bottles last February. She entered a guilty plea last month.

Today, the judge went above sentencing guidelines, ordering Jones to prison for 8 to 15 years.

Jones' one-year-old girl never drank the deadly mixture of milk and poison because the child's grandmother took the bottle away. The grandmother pleaded with the judge for a light sentence saying she called police, so her daughter could get help, not prison.

Some in the court cheered the judges' decision for a long prison sentence. Others said it was far too harsh.

It's not possible to tell from the story what Shatara Jones' mental condition might have been or if anyone bothered to look into it in the first place. Post-partum psychosis and depression come to mind as possible candidates. I also wonder if she actually planned to kill her child, given that she did all this in front of her mother who stopped her and called the police in order to get help for her daughter.

Of course what the daughter got was 8-15 years in prison.

Perhaps she deserved it. I cannot tell. But I wonder if she had gotten the same treatment had she been white and rich, or if she had indeed gotten the help she so obviously needs.

Whatever the justice of her sentence, I was thoroughly disgusted by most of the comments attached to the article. We humans really are like the vengeful god we invented.

More Southern Baptist "Old Boy" Religion

Wanna learn how wife-abuse is the fault of the abused wives themselves? It's really easy to prove if you are Bruce Ware, a Southern Baptist preacher:

"One reason that men abuse their wives is because women rebel against their husband's God-given authority."

and that,

"(W)omen desire to have their own way instead of submitting to their husbands because of sin."


"And husbands on their parts, because they're sinners, now respond to that threat to their authority either by being abusive, which is of course one of the ways men can respond when their authority is challenged–or, more commonly, to become passive, acquiescent, and simply not asserting the leadership they ought to as men in their homes and in churches,"

But of course abuse is one way for men to respond to such disobedient women. Of course.

I'm not sure how to even discuss something like this, to be quite honest. The Southern Baptist world view doesn't have many connections to my world view. For instance, I don't believe that men have a God-given right to rule over women. Neither can I understand how those with that view can blame the women if men fail to enforce that divinely ordained domination. Who was it again who is supposed to have the responsibilities of "leading" (as the religious fundies call bossing other people around)?

And what happens if the husband just likes to beat his wife and decides that the beatings are part of his God-given right to "lead"?

You might want to read more of Mr. Ware's thoughts on women, the evils of feminism and the need for women to voluntarily enslave themselves to the reproductive use of their husbands. For that is what he advocates, really.

Me, I think that anyone advocating such voluntarily enslavement based on nothing but gender is committing a sin themselves. But then I'm past redemption, most likely.

And yes, all this sounds very much like the radical Islamic view of the proper role of women.