Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good Music for Chores

Well, for just listening, too, but I feel like moving when hearing Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic."

Nasty Post IV

I've been thinking about research and the popularization of studies a lot in the last few days, for reasons which are evident a few posts down on this here blog. In particular, I've been thinking about what makes a study smell all rotten to me, and I've come up with a partial list:

1. The absolutely most awful case is the one where the researcher refuses to show you any of work which presumably led to some results, often rather sensational ones. You might not think that something like this could ever happen, but it does, my friend, it does. It's as if someone got a set of data, did some number-crunching on it and then widely posted the findings from that but refused to let anyone see how the numbers were actually crunched! Well, it's not 'as if'. This actually happened not long ago with a sensational argument widely written about in the right-wing media. When I e-mailed the researcher for the paper he told me to do my own calculations from the data set (a very large one). Stunning, is it not? And very much against the idea of transparency in academic work.

2. Not much better is the practice of omitting large chunks of analysis or data in the final paper. Both of these are a problem that resembles what happens in voting without a paper trail. You can't back-track someone's work. Indeed, you can't check it at all.

3. It's become more and more common for the press release about an article to appear BEFORE the article itself is available. This means that if the press release is popularized anyone who wants to criticize its conclusions is handicapped by not having access to the actual study. This was done with a fairly recent article purporting to show that women are less intelligent than men. I listened to the BBC on this topic, debating the article etc., when the article itself was not yet available at all. Talk about a slanting the playing field! By the time the article itself became available nobody was interested in the topic or how bad the article was.

4. Both studies and some people who popularize studies of a certain flavor present reviews of existing literature. Literature review is a standard beginning of most studies, and if you know the field at all just scanning through the references which are included may be enough to tell you that the study will be biased. The same is true of some popularizers and their work (coughDavidBrookscough).

To see what I mean, think of M&Ms. They come in all sorts of colors. Now suppose you are entertaining someone from Mars who has never seen those little pieces of chocolate. You pick out all blue M&Ms and hand them to your visitor, at the same time telling it that all M&Ms are blue. The visitor is quite likely to believe you, given the pile of blue M&Ms in its hand.

But of course blue is not the only color of M&Ms. This example is meant to tell you (in a sophisticated way) how you can pick from the existing research only those studies which support your argument and how that selection may end up looking like what the field is actually agreeing on. To know that this is not the case requires knowing more about the field.

Now, it's one thing to find something like the Blue M&M Rule (named by me!) in the hands of David Brooks. It's a totally different thing to find it used in a peer reviewed article. The latter should never happen. That it does means that someone in that field is not doing the work of proper criticism (and that applies with even more fervor to letting really bad statistical analyses get through).

5. A very common mistake in the studies I have criticized on this blog is the fallacy of assuming that if a particular theory leads to a certain prediction then finding that prediction realized in some data set means that the particular theory is true.

You have probably come across this in some other context. Suppose we call the theory A and the prediction B, and the way B is derived from A gives us:

If A, then B.

But this does not necessarily mean that

If B, then A

is also true. (Suppose that A=Echidne has just eaten a cheese sammich and B=there's food in her tummy. It's possible for 'If A, then B' to be true while not necessarily 'If B, then A' (because I may have eaten something else instead)).

This fallacy is utterly common among the narrowly defined evolutionary psychology studies (often called E.P. studies to distinguish them from general evolutionary psychology studies or e.p. studies), the ones which go out to hunt for support (B) for a particular theory (A) and come home with nothing else. This ignores all the other theories (C, D, E etc.) that might have produced the same prediction B.

6. The popularization bias. I have written about that many times before, but it's certainly true that a study telling us how similar men and women are in some respect will not be picked up by all those popularizers. Nope. But even a terrible study pretending to have found some significant gender differences will be popularized, at least if it accords with various hidden biases. It may become part of our 'received knowledge' and remain that way, even if many other studies later show it to be wrong. The debunking of study findings (such as the idea that men all over the world prefer women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7) is not exciting enough for popularizations. This means that popularizations matter and that we should criticize bad popularizations, because they exert long-term influence.

More Cats

Pippin, courtesy of FeraLiberal. And again:

Friday, December 12, 2008

RIP Bettie Page (by Suzie)

       Bettie Page, whose pinup and BDSM photos turned her into a cult icon,   died Thursday. She’s a stellar example of someone who became a commodity, whose image profited others.
       Her “sex fiend” father molested her and her sisters, Page once said. After an abusive first husband and a gang rape, she left Nashville for New York, where she began posing for sexy photos to make money, and in hopes of becoming an actress.
        In interviews, she said she wasn’t personally into bondage, but she enjoyed the photo shoots. She said she never thought of her poses as sexual. In "The Notorious Bettie Page," she acts na├»ve and trusting. But Page was smart. The writer and director, Mary Harron, said she thinks Page must have known what she was doing, but “she had sealed herself off in some protective way from what disturbed her …”
         In middle age, she was treated for depression, violent moods and schizophrenia. Harron thinks Page suffered from mental illness earlier, but it went unnoticed.
         Page had wanted to be a missionary at one time, and she quit her modeling career, in part, to focus on Christianity. She ended up penniless, but finally got royalties for her work. 
          When commenting about her, a lot of men confuse women's sexuality with what women do to please men, to make a living or to get ahead. People talk about how she celebrated her sexuality, blah-de-blah, without noting that photographers paid her to pose in various ways. I wonder how people look at her photos and see only what they want to see. 

The media and rape, part 2 (by Suzie)

       While searching for examples for the post below, I remembered this case, whose bad wording seemed to merit a separate post.
      A stranger raped a college student last year after a parade. The initial story in the St. Petersburg Times quotes a Tampa police spokeswoman:
Initially, police were unsure that a crime had been committed because the woman was so intoxicated, she said.
It appeared to be a case of date rape at first, she said, because "she had willingly brought him back to her dorm."
But after interviewing the victim and the witness the next day, detectives concluded it was a case of sexual battery.
          This hits the trifecta of rape myths. The follow-up story discusses whether the college should alert students about date rapes. If a man rapes a woman he knows, then he’s no threat to others … wait, a minute, that’s crazy. I understand that it makes some difference in security precautions if a rapist breaks into a building or finds another way to get in. But predators are predators.
         By the third paragraph, the reporter is trying to be fair by … blaming the victim.
Though some students expressed outrage that school officials didn't notify them immediately, others suggested that the victim brought trouble on herself by drinking too much, leaving her friends and allowing a stranger into her room.
           In the fifth paragraph, the reporter explains that the rapist “escorted” the drunken student back to her room and then raped her. Escorted? Good grief.

The media and rape (by Suzie)

       At my last newspaper, an editor complained that I was biased as a feminist. The only evidence he could cite was that I had once called a rape victim a “survivor,” even though I noted in the feature story that she preferred that term over "victim."
       How the media handles rape has long interested me. I’d like to clarify some issues that have surfaced on feminist blogs, starting with some comments I made at Corrente.
       What you or I consider rape may not be defined that way in state law. For example, some states use "rape" for forced intercourse and "sexual assault" for sexual contact that doesn't involve intercourse. In other states, “sexual assault” includes forced intercourse. Media guidelines on libel and word usage call for reporters to use the proper legal terms.
       Similarly, reporters are not supposed to call a homicide a "murder" unless someone gets convicted of murder. The killer might end up being convicted of manslaughter, for example, not murder as defined under the law. The 2000 AP Stylebook is online and explains this.
       In the case against Roman Polanski, for instance, a recent NYT article describes him as having had “sex” with a 13-year-old, presumably because he pleaded guilty to “sex with a minor.” (He had originally been charged with rape, but plea-bargained down. Samantha Geimer has always maintained that she did not consent, but the article fails to mention this. His lawyers filed a motion this month to throw out the charge.)
       In some cases, everyone agrees that a rape (or sexual assault) occurred. A famous example would be the "Central Park Jogger" case. But in many cases, as with Kobe Bryant, evidence of intercourse doesn't prove rape. And defendants can try to explain away much physical abuse by saying the victim wanted rough sex. This has led some media to refer to "sex"  or "sexual intercourse" until rape is proven.
       “One of the issues I've seen in media stories is calling an alleged rape ‘sex’ or writing ‘it's undisputed that they had sex,’ when the defendant claims consent with the assumption that this is a neutral phrasing when it actually implies that the person reporting rape consented,” wrote Marcella Chester in an email. I had asked her opinion because I respect what she writes on her blogs, Abyss2hope and Date Rape is Real Rape. “The other issue I've seen is for unverified defense claims or leading defense questions to be repeated as if they are verified facts.”
        I agree that reporters need to be more careful in their coverage, and I would love to see the media discuss their wording more often. They should understand that “sex” has the connotation of consent, even though the dictionary does not define it that way. In fact, rape often is defined as forced sexual intercourse, thus making it a subset of sex.
         This can lead to problems such as the Nebraska judge who banned all use of the words “rape” or “sexual assault” in a rape case while allowing the accused to describe what happened as “sex.” (The prosecution gave up after two mistrials, and the creep went free.) In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the judge's decision.
         The mainstream media does not reveal the name of rape victims unless the victims consent. When a victim doesn't want her name used, reporters will call her a "victim" if it's undisputed that a rape occurred or if they can attribute the description to someone else, as in: "Police said the victim ...."If the man claims it was consensual sex, and a court hasn't ruled, then reporters will avoid the term “victim” without attribution. An example of this thinking is the judge in the Kobe Bryant case who ruled that the woman couldn't be called “the victim” in court. The NYT discussed the issue.
         Some reporters will refer to “the accuser,” which I think is a step up from “the alleged victim,” as noted in this Poynter column on the Bryant case. As with “rape” vs. “sex,” good reporters can “write around” the problem. They may substitute a description such as “the woman” or “the student,” but they need to avoid prejudicial descriptions, such as “the stripper.” (I’m thinking of the Duke case. Obviously, a lot of people think sex workers can’t be raped.)
        Writer Colette Bancroft commented on the Poynter column, saying the media uses "victim" for other crimes, such as theft or carjacking, even though the "victim" may turn out to be lying. I’d argue that reporters do use “victim” in rape cases until a question arises about what happened. Similarly, they stop using "victim" in any case where the crime is questioned.
        This may become moot as more and more media, including blogs, post the names of victims. (I can say "victims" all I want in this construction.) That happened in the Central Park and Kobe Bryant cases.
        It’s not just women’s names getting posted, of course. To me, the most disturbing trend in rape reporting is the vicious attacks online against women, especially those who accuse sports figures or other popular men. Even the victim of a man who is less known may find herself torn apart by the anonymous misogynists who comment on newspapers online. 
           At Abyss2hope, you can check out the latest Carnival Against Sexual Violence.
           Marcella Chester is going to the Women, Action and the Media conference in March to speak on “Pulling the Plug on Rape Culture One Word at a Time:
Using Accuracy to Undermine Dangerous Attitudes and Injustice.” If this matters to you, please consider donating to defray her costs. You can click on the “chip in” button on her site. If you’re in the spirit to give, please don’t forget our own goddess, who has a link for donations at the top of this page.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

This is a photo of Scrawny, taken by Phil Sheffield, who just adopted him from county animal services, where he is volunteering. I've heard that striped cats have a harder time getting adopted because there are so many of them. 

Sex and Statistics

My previous post about Daniel Kruger's study concerning the number of sexual partners people have had or wish to have and how that correlates with how much they spend resulted in me actually reading the original article.

I'm still a little bit flabbergasted by the fact that peer review passed it on. Who are the peers who thought this was an acceptably presented empirical analysis? The very reason for peer reviews is to weed out obvious mistakes of various types. But this did not happen with Kruger's paper.

To see why all this matters, remember that Kruger's main point is to seek current evidence which would bolster his evolutionary psychology argument that men who have more resources attract more sexual partners. It is not enough to find that people who have more resources attract more sexual partners, because the evo psycho theory is that what's appealing in men is resources and what's appealing in women is body. So we need to be shown that resources (or whatever weird proxy is used for them here, financial consumption values) are correlated differently with sex for men and women.

Given this, it would seem extremely important that the article showed us the results for the female data set. But it does not! We are just told that the results didn't show any relationship between financial spending by women and the number of sexual partners they had. So take it on faith?

Well, not quite. There's an odd bit about all this in the article. I quote:
Male and female samples were combined to provide a direct test of the predicted moderation by sex. Gender (1=female, 2=male) and financial consumption were multiplied to create an interaction term predicting each log transformed SOI variable.

Interaction terms are common in econometrics, too, and often one of the terms to be multiplied is a qualitative one, such as gender. The way one transforms qualitative binary variables into numerical ones is by using 1 and 0 as the values. It doesn't matter which sex we assign the value 1, because what the interaction term is measuring is the differential effect some other variable (the one we multiply the gender variable with) has on the variable we want to explain, by gender.

Now why would Kruger use 2 for men, instead of zero? Perhaps the statement is a typographical error? Perhaps men were assigned the value zero? Let's look at his findings about the interaction term assuming that we have a typo here:

The findings (from Table 2) give the coefficient for the interaction term as 0.01 for past sex and 0.015 for future sex. These would then be the extra effects each additional unit of the financial consumption measures have on the number of past and future sexual partners FOR THE GROUP we assigned the value 1. That would be women, if the initial discussion contained a typo. So women would actually be the group that has more sex the more they spend, not men.

My conclusion is that he really used 1 and 2 as the values for women and men. This doesn't make any sense at all to me. Perhaps someone can explain why he did it?

More generally, it's not possible to read the paper and to find out what the equations are that he actually estimated. The theoretical discussion at the beginning suggests that he has in mind something like this:

Number of sexual partners = Constant + b*education +c*marital status +d*age +e*financial consumption

where b, c, d and e (and the constant term) are the coefficients that the analysis will estimate when we plug in the data on education, marital status, age and financial consumption on the right-hand side and the three measures of the number of sexual partners on the left-hand side (for three analyses). Stars stand for multiplication.

These equations would be estimated separately for men and women, not because statistical tests show that this should be done, but because Kruger's basic theory believes that it should be done!

But it's not at all clear if he indeed estimated this equation but something which only contained the terms that stood out in the zero correlations table. If only those terms were included then the results he talks about in the press release don't actually control for marital status, say.

I now want to return to the interaction term discussion. Perhaps someone pointed out that it's not a great idea to argue that men and women are different in this behavior and then not to show any of the results that would let us judge the argument? Perhaps that someone suggested that it might be a good idea to pool the data (use all the data for both sexes in the three equations) and to add an interaction term for gender and financial consumption to test if there actually is a differential effect by gender? The equation would look something like this (assuming that no basic gender term was also included):

Number of sexual partners = Constant + b*education +c*marital status +d*age +e*financial consumption + f*(financial consumption*gender)

Here the gender term would equal 1 for one sex and 0 for the other sex. Suppose that we assign the value 1 for 'male' and the value 0 for 'female'. Now plug in those value to see the form the equation takes: The coefficient for financial consumption for women is e, while the coefficient for financial consumption for men is e+f. Estimation would give us the value for f.

There are all sorts of reasons why adding just one interaction term this way might not be good statistics (for example, it assumes no gender interaction in the other terms on the right-hand side). But I have never seen 1 and 2 used in these applications. It makes no sense.

What's the conclusion then? The article doesn't give us the evidence which it supposedly has unearthed. This means that we can't judge the evidence.

Where are my perks? (by Suzie)

         This newspaper article talks about a hairstyling franchise that caters to men. It offers "attractive female stylists and other perks," according to the cutline (or "caption") on one photo, and it was compared to Hooters.
       I wonder why so few businesses employ young, attractive men in skimpy clothes to please women. Is it assumed that women are content with a good hairstyle or good food? Are women less interested in hot men who are paid to be nice and serve them?
       The headline on the article is: "... salon does men's hair in a manly manner." Because if you're a real man, you like to play pool, watch sports, etc. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like Shooting Fish In A Barrel

I feel terribly guilty about writing yet another critical post about a summary of a study based on evolutionary psychology, this one:

Men are hardwired after eons of evolution to overspend, a new study suggests. Their maxed-out credit cards and mega-purchases have been tied to their desire to attract mates.

The biggest male spenders in the survey were found to have the highest number of reported past partners and desired the most future partners.

The finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, did not hold with women.

Vying for women is simply what men do and have done for hundreds of thousands of years, said study leader Daniel Kruger, a social and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. But how they entice mates has evolved.

"Men in the ancestral environment were valued if they were good providers," Kruger said. "Now we have this new consumer culture, so basically we show our potential through the consumer goods that we purchase, rather than being a good hunter or providing protection."

Hardwired to overspend! Wow.

How do we know that men in the ancestral environment were valued if they were good providers? Did Kruger hide behind a tree for a few centuries to observe how the men were valued and on what basis? And on what basis were the women valued? Did those women go out gathering, say? And did the group benefit from those gathering efforts? But the ancestral guys still didn't value their gathering, eh?

Goddess but I'm tired of this shit. Here comes the money shot:

Kruger used data collected from telephone surveys of more than 400 men and women with an average age of 34 (100 men and 309 women). Participants rated how much they agreed with three statements about their financial habits, such as "I always live within my income range," and "Each income period, I set aside at least ten percent for savings."

(A person who highly agreed with the statements would be considered conservative in matters financial, as opposed to consumptive.)

They also indicated marital status and sexual partners (their count for the past five years and number desired in the future).

Men who spent more (saved less) and who were more likely to shell out more than they earned reported having more sexual partners in the past five years and desired more future partners than other guys in the study.

Specifically, the 25 percent of men who were most conservative about spending had an average of three partners in the past five years and desired about one partner in the next five years. The 2 percent of men with the riskiest financial strategies had double those numbers.

Did you get that? The 2 percent of men with the riskiest financial strategies had twice as many sexual partners as the 25 percent of men who were the most conservative about spending? Could that be a typo?

After all, 2 percent of one hundred men is....two men! Why on earth would Kruger want to compare the two men who were the highest spenders to the twenty-five men who spent the least? Why not compare, say, the top twenty-five with the bottom twenty-five? I wonder if the two big-spenders are outliers, atypical in their answers.

It's a very odd study design (with three times as many women as men) and a very odd summary.

Do Bitches Have Feelings?

Heh. I bet I caught you with that horrible title for this post. It's really about bitches. And dogs:

Dogs can sniff out unfair situations and show a simple emotion similar to envy or jealousy, Austrian researchers reported on Monday.

Dogs sulked and refused to "shake" paws if other dogs got treats for tricks and they did not, said Friederike Range, an animal psychologist at the University of Vienna, who led the study into canine emotions.

"It is a more complex feeling or emotion than what we would normally attribute to animals," said Range.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also showed dogs licked and scratched themselves and acted stressed when they were denied rewards given to other dogs.

Other studies have shown monkeys often express resentful behaviour when a partner receives a greater reward for performing an identical task, staging strikes or ignoring what they view as inferior compensation.

It turns out dogs are able to show a similar, if less sensitive, response, said Range in a telephone interview.

I have no idea if the study is any good and I'm not going to read it, because this is a fluff post (to make sure that not everything I write about is on feminism). Most dog owners would agree on the findings, though.

There's a funny Catch-22 in the expertise dog owners get about their dogs over time. On the one hand we learn an awful lot about dogs just by living with them and observing them. On the other hand, we are often viewed as biased observers of dogs, love making us prone to anthropomorphizing our dogs' behavior.

And of course domesticated dogs who live alone with humans are not representative of how dogs might act in a wild pack. Still, putting dogs into a laboratory is in some ways akin to finding how dogs would act in a concentration camp: It's a totally artificial environment. Yet we often study animals in cages and in mazes. Remember those famous studies about primate bonding in the 1950s? They were carried out in bare cages, too, so what we really learned from them is how primates might bond in prisons with nothing much to do or to see.

Oops. I'm already digressing from the fluffiness. Here it comes:

When my Henrietta the Hound was at her physical peak she loved to race other dogs in the dog park. She could catch and overtake all the other regulars except for the greyhound. One day a young Springer Spaniel came into the park, wanted to race Henrietta and won. Henrietta couldn't catch her because she couldn't turn very fast; she'd just keep running straight when the Springer swerved.

I had an enjoyable hour watching the two play the same game over and over again. Henrietta never caught the Springer. Then she changed her strategy: She started walking nonchalantly towards the Springer, stopping to sniff or to look at the horizon. Once she got close enough, she suddenly darted at the Springer.

It still didn't work, but I think I saw an attempt at deception there. Later I saw her trick Hank into certain forms of behavior by employing various types of deception. On the other hand, she broke off a piece of her dog biscuit and threw it to Hank when Hank whined for a piece (having already wolfed down her own biscuit).

How about that envy, then? I'm not sure if the emotion the study talks about is the same as human envy or it's something more like outrage at the unfairness. Those are not the same emotion in humans. What I do know is that I got told off pretty clearly if I absent-mindedly rewarded only one of the dogs for something.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hip Hop And Hos

Nareissa Smith has written a fascinating piece on women performers and hip hop. Lots of food for thought there, and much of it generalizes to other types of music if not with quite the same strength. Here's a taste of her argument:

In fact, the intersection of capitalism and sexism has had another interesting effect on women in hip hop. First, the sexism - As Weiner states, there have always been women in hip hop – first, as stand-alone acts, then, as the "kid sister" or apprentice to a male rapper. But now, women in rap are even further marginalized. The only women that one sees in rap videos these days (so I hear, as I refuse to watch anymore) are so called "video vixens," scantily clad women whose sole purpose in her objectification is to serve the male gaze and narrative around her. So I ask: if the current iteration of hip hop is predicated on women being objects as opposed to subjects, and is predicated on removing any independent agency, where is the place for a woman to speak of her own authority - or at all?

I'm not sure if I'd call the way these markets work just simple capitalism, because there's something more than that going on, something more recent than the era of capitalism in general. It may be linked to those technological changes which made it possible to pass the same few stars/actors/singers into every household in the country, which made it almost impossible to make a living in the fields if you weren't one of that select handful, even if you were very good indeed. This concentration of markets is visible in television shows (which all tend to copy the one that sold best last year), in movies, in books, in ballet and in sports.

I find that focus on a few super-stars ultimately boring and less fertile than an imaginary alternative situation of many competing smaller markets seeking different customer groups. It appears to slow down truly new creativity. Thing do change, but perhaps more slowly than they would in that imaginary alternative, and once something new does manage to break through, well, everyone copies it again.

How does this all relate to the sexism Smith mentions? Once the contents of hip hop were commercially set as all about a certain kind of ultra-aggressive masculinity, combined with utter contempt towards women, that's how the market is seen. Not the easiest market for a woman to break into in any other role than as meat.

Do read Smith's whole piece. I remember reading about Ms. Sarah Baartman, the Hottentot woman who was displayed all over the world in the 1880s. But of course the source I read didn't even deign to give her name.

How About Those Pink-Collar Jobs?

Linda Hirshman makes an important point about the new planned infrastructure projects as a vehicle for fighting the recession and employing more people: They are not going to help very many unemployed women directly:

BARACK OBAMA has announced a plan to stimulate the economy by creating 2.5 million jobs over the next two years. He intends to use the opportunity to make good on two campaign promises — to invest in road and bridge maintenance and school repair and to create jobs that reduce energy use and emissions that lead to global warming.

Mr. Obama compared his infrastructure plan to the Eisenhower-era construction of the Interstate System of highways. It brings back the Eisenhower era in a less appealing way as well: there are almost no women on this road to recovery.

Back before the feminist revolution brought women into the workplace in unprecedented numbers, this would have been more understandable. But today, women constitute about 46 percent of the labor force. And as the current downturn has worsened, their traditionally lower unemployment rate has actually risen just as fast as men's. A just economic stimulus plan must include jobs in fields like social work and teaching, where large numbers of women work.

The bulk of the stimulus program will provide jobs for men, because building projects generate jobs in construction, where women make up only 9 percent of the work force.

Isn't it interesting how policies which on the face of it look gender-neutral are not really so, especially given the high levels of occupational gender segregation in this country? Still, there are some possibilities for creating more jobs for women, too:

Fortunately, jobs for women can be created by concentrating on professions that build the most important infrastructure — human capital. In 2007, women were 83 percent of social workers, 94 percent of child care workers, 74 percent of education, training and library workers (including 98 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers and 92 percent of teachers' assistants).

Libraries are closing or cutting back everywhere, while demand for their services, including their Internet connections, has risen. Philadelphia's proposal last month to close 11 branches brought people into the street to protest.

Many of the jobs women do are already included in Mr. Obama's campaign promises. Women are teachers, and the campaign promised to provide support for families with children up to the age of 5, increase Head Start financing and quadruple the money spent on Early Head Start to include a quarter-million infants and toddlers. Special education, including arts education, is heavily female as well. Mr. Obama promised to increase financing for arts education and for the National Endowment for the Arts, which supports many school programs.

Also, Susan G. at Daily Kos pointed out that Obama addressed women directly in his speech about these projects. I hope that this means that he plans for projects which employ both men and women who have lost their jobs.

The Battle of the Sexes

A funny term, is it not? It's often used in those popularizations of gender research and similar juicy topics. The first time I saw it I immediately thought how very inappropriate it is. If we take the term seriously then men appear to have won that battle in Saudi Arabia.

But we are not supposed to take the term seriously, nooo. It's shorthand for funny-ha-ha type of articles on the topic of common quarrels between men and women or on some pseudo-biological crap about the sperm fighting the ova for supremacy. At the same time, the basic setup (battle, like in a war) is supposed to make us think of the two sides as equally well-equipped and equally aggressive armies in this war. Never mind that the "enemy" is in your family and includes one of your biological parents!

And never mind that women commit fewer violent acts than men and mostly don't have weapons training at all or that women are not allowed to fight in some countries on this planet. It's still a funny way of describing arguments about who should do the dishes, I guess, as long as you don't get that Saudi Arabia connotation from it.

In Other News

The Supreme Court has turned down an emergency appeal from a New Jersey man who says President-elect Barack Obama is ineligible to be president because he was a British subject at birth.

It's a very odd story, altogether, that desperate attempt to find Barack Obama ineligible on the basis of citizenship. I've tried to follow the arguments, but they tend to shift the way arguments usually do when only the goal is fixed and everything else varies to reach that goal.

There are people who focus on stuff like that and it's a good thing to be reminded of it. If you don't read right-wing blogs, that is.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cardboard Cutouts

You probably came across this picture and the attached story last week. (By the way, if you're looking for a cheap-and-safe brain-scrambling alternative for alcohol, check out the comments thread to that WaPo blog post. It makes you scream and scream, it does.)

What's interesting about that frat party picture: The guy on the left is Obama's new director of speech writing, and the guy on the right also wears a t-shirt saying "Obama staff". The woman in the middle is a cardboard cutout. Don't know how she got invited to the party, but she probably never read all those warnings about frat boyz.

Nah. She's just cardboard so fooling around with her is A-OK. Don't we all do that when young and silly and so on? Of course we weren't speechwriters for the president-elect then, and some of us just stole traffic signs (Note: That's a dangerous thing to do and not mentioned as a nice harmless counter-example. It's mostly mentioned because I don't edit much).

Oh. And some of us weren't the right sex to grab the tits of cardboard cutouts. Don't know how I almost forgot that part.
Suzie Madrak has an interesting take on this.

A Quick Thought For The Day

This has to do with the alcohol post right below and the one below it, the one where I linked to a piece about the fragility of male animals to environmental pollutants.

Have you ever thought about how many pieces in general are written about the fragility of women's bodies? They are more likely to get damaged in sports, running too much makes them stop menstruating, osteoporosis will get them if they don't get lots of calcium, their livers can't cope with drinking, their lungs can't cope with smoking, they have higher rates of depression because of all those female hormonal changes and so on and so on. Whether all or any of this is true is hard to tell sometimes, because the reason for such pieces isn't purely a sincere medical interest in the well-being of all the little ladies.

Yet women live, on average, longer than men.

Booze And Women

I bet you thought that might mean the same as 'drugs and hookers', something that men talk about while listing the main food groups. But no, sadly, it's all about the increased alcoholism among women. A New York Magazine article tells us about this by citing a few statistical facts concerning increased drinking among young women. Then the article goes on to interview all sorts of women who drink too much and then it tells us that the main reason for their drinking is feminism. Yeah. You don't need to actually ask women why they drink; it's clearly the cause of the striving towards gender equality, and the message is that Equality Is Bad For Women. Of course equality and feminism are defined very oddly in this article. The writers of the blog Jezebel are quoted as experts, for instance.

Is it not sad? Remember that there is no actual study about why women who drink too much do so. The feminism bit was just inserted into the story to make it sell more and perhaps incidentally to tell women that, nope, equality is not really possible. Look what happens when you try to drink like a guy?

I'd like to know what proportion of all alcoholics are female. It would be a good thing to know just so that we can set this female drinking epidemic into some kind of proportion with the general drinking epidemic. I'd also like to know whether 'drinking like a guy' means to drink the same number of glasses or pints or whether it means drinking the same amount in some proportional sense.

Reading the article made me think if I want to eat as much as my much-taller brother, just so as to feel equal. Some introspection reveals that I don't. Which makes me suspect that women don't actually drink as much as men with different body chemistries, just to feel equal in some odd way. If there is any equality-related aspect to excess drinking it's probably more a desire to fit in with the guys, to be accepted as one of them?

The article is really sad, because it could have taken a different avenue and actually talked about the dangers of excess drinking and the reasons people do it and the alternatives that might exist. That opportunity was lost, in favor of the argument that women really were better off when they couldn't drink in public and so had to drink less. Or get Valium from their family doctors.

You may have figured out by now that I'm a feminist. Yet I've never advocated increased alcoholism as The Path Towards Gender Equality. How odd the mainstream media sometimes is in its primal views about feminism.

Weird Ways Of Celebrating Women's Suffrage in Britain

I've been reading the U.K. Guardian about the eightieth anniversary of women's suffrage there. This piece has a feminist tone, a sad tone about the recent lack of any real progress, the tone of someone who feels rather alone in a world where women are supposed to offer to suck dick, work as Girl Fridays and then stay at home with their children. But it also has some interesting ideas about feminism perhaps coming towards its next wider awakening. I want to write about that more in the future.

If you go from that article to the survey about gender roles it mentions you are in for something rather smelly. This graph summarizes the findings. Click on it to see a larger version.

I was unable to find the actual survey anywhere, which means that I have no idea how the people were picked for questioning, how many they were and how leading the questions might have been. Thus, I can't tell whether the findings are easily generalizable or not. But note that the most traditional attitudes are often held by the youngest respondents, those who don't yet know that they are unlikely to even have the choice of just having one parent out in the labor force. That they hold such stereotypically sexist views is a bit disheartening, in any case.

I skipped from that to a story about how emasculated men now feel in Britain. A snippet:

The majority of almost 2,000 men aged 16 to 65 questioned by OnePoll, an independent market research company, admitted struggling to feel confident about their place in society. About half confessed to feeling most insecure when at work, while another 40 per cent also felt inadequate during nights out with friends.

All those questioned by the survey, commissioned by Braun, admitted to feeling increasingly emasculated by women and said their feelings of inadequacy soar when women are present.

ALL of them? That's just not at all likely. Either the survey is an utterly crappy one or the writer of this summary doesn't understand it.

If you take these three stories together (and add the title of a science article on the effect of environmental pollution of men:
"It's official: Men really are the weaker sex"), you might be left with a rather bad taste in your mouth about the way women are viewed in Britain, especially if you remember that the Guardian is probably the newspaper most likely to lend column space to feminist writings. Well, I was left with such a taste.

It seemed worth writing about, both to give those of you who are not female a glimpse into the kind of stuff I read almost every day, the kind of stuff which probably just floats past you (unless it's about the feminisation of boys, perhaps), the kind of stuff which just makes you feel down for no discernible reason until you become aware of all those little messages us girls get all the time.

So you can go through just one newspaper on one day (or one newspaper website at least) and what do you learn? That British young women are sexual objects defined by lap dancing and porn? That more more young Britons want women to stay at home than was the case five years ago? That British men are emasculated, based on a survey and physically threatened, too? Is any of this really true?

I don't know. But I do know the message that is being transmitted here and it's not one I treasure.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Feeling Down? by Anthony McCarthy

Looked for something posted here about a year ago, read the December '07 archive today. A year ago we were worried about the possibility of Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani or McCain being sworn in in

Whatever else we've got to worry about, at least it's not that.

Oh Joy, The Christmas Wars by Anthony McCarthy

I’m starting out as I will end, all seasonal displays on public property by outside groups, religious, anti-religious, etc. should be prohibited, it leads to nothing but trouble, it is a tedious waste of time and attention by public servants who have better things to do. Unlike the rest of this perennial story, I’m only going to say it once and get it said.

You knew some variation on this story was coming. Seems that someone stole a sign erected by some enterprising atheists as their contribution to the entirely inappropriate holiday display at the Legislative Building in Olympia, Washington. The sign read.

At the season of
may reason prevail.

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only
our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.

Nothing provocative about that, is there. While, if they let them put up the manger scene, they must allow the sign to be put up, I agree with those who point out that you could be forgiven for thinking the FFRF might be somewhat gratified by the theft. A reaction and feigned outrage at the reaction is an intrinsic part of this well rehearsed routine. The sign was clearly meant to stir things up and clearly would offend, a group that claims to promote reason doesn’t get to put up that sign at Christmas time and pretend they didn’t know the predictable results. Today it is as predictable as the objections to those who insist on trying to get the government to symbolically endorse their religion. It’s just a variation on William Donohue’s annual Christmas skit.

Yes, yes, if whoever stole the thing is caught they should be charged with petty larceny or some such thing. I’d like to know their motives, which we can only guess at, for now. It could have been some punk whose motives were as faith based as bashing a mailbox. But they should be prosecuted. As if the cops in Olympia, Washington didn’t have better things to do with their time.

And if you, like me, wish that this is about as far as things can go, of special interest to Pagans and their allies will be this quote from Dan Barker the former evangelical preacher and co-founder of the group.

"Most people think December is for Christians and view our signs as an intrusion, when actually it's the other way around," he said. "People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the holiday from all of us humans."

Perhaps Barker doesn’t understand that to of most of us humans the solstice celebrations were to propitiate various gods and supernatural beings to bring back the sun. It wasn't "the axial tilt" that got them all festive and a bit of it is reported to have been quite religious, indeed. I wonder if some modern Wiccans, who are more use than most to having their deeply held religion called “myth and superstition”, might want to counter the FFRF expropriation of their holiday as well. And I’m sure there would be a group to take the Wiccans to task for some whatever.

No display of religion belongs on any government property, none whatsoever. If it’s necessary to forbid all displays on government property, sponsored by any outside group, it’s worth the sacrifice. Aside from the clear implication that it is an endorsement of a specific brand of religion, justice and equality require that once one group can put something up, all can. Then the kinds of displays that will be allowed will become a time-wasting, attention diverting issue. Many will purposely be too outrageous or offensive to be tolerable and someone will purposely try to provoke another group. It’s guaranteed that anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-Buddhist, anti-Catholic, etc. displays will be erected by those who will insist on equal time with whoever else gets to put something up.

Ban all of these displays on public property, they don’t belong there. Governments, federal, state and local have too many real problems to deal with without having to monitor whatever dioramas and posters adults acting like spoiled brats can come up with. It’s not as if there aren’t enough private properties to display things on. That’s where these displays belong. Ban them all, take the issue out of the hands of government officials and put it back where it belongs, in the private sector.

P.S. Like those annual estimates of the accumulative gifts of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, it gives a lazy and superficial press too many stories that could have been phoned in on auto-pilot. Not buying cable anymore, I don’t know if CNN has had on one of the reliable rentable voices of religious outrage on to counter their publicity seeking opponents. But they will.

Can A Native Mainer Brag About His State? by Anthony McCarthy

I have, in fact, bragged that Maine is the first state in the country to have both branches of its legislature headed by women at the same time. Libby Mitchell in the Senate and Hannah Pingree in the House. It was a surprise to me that it hasn't happened somewhere else before now. The first woman to be elected Attorney General of Maine, Janet Mills, was selected by the legislature this past week as well, I believe Maine is the only state where the legislature appoints the Attorney General. I seem to recall hearing that Libby Mitchell is the only woman to have ever been leader of both houses of her state legislature. Better stop bragging while I’ve still got an audience.

We’ve made some notable progress towards gender equity here, not enough but some real progress. So maybe looking back at how we got to where we are today would be useful. Here is an article by Marie Tessier from 2000 that is helps understand how things got to where they are. .

As eight-year term limits began closing in on many of the seasoned women legislators in Maine's state Capitol, state Sen. Rochelle "Chellie" Pingree, the Democrat from the island of North Haven, knew there was just one thing to do--recruit more women candidates.

Note, before going on, that Chellie Pingree is our new first district Congressional Representative, Hannah Pingree is her daughter who, I hasten to add, got to where she is by her own hard work and on her own merits.

With a speed made possible by Maine's remarkably open political process, Pingree and Senate President Lawrence began lining up women to run, especially for the state senate.

"We tried to recruit women because they work hard on the campaign--we go into a campaign thinking we have to work ten times harder--and they make good legislators, besides," Pingree said in a recent interview. "And I think more women should serve in elective office."

The women-focused strategy and a targeted candidate training program, conceived when Republicans won control of the state senate in 1994, have paid off.

In 1996, Democrats won back control of the 35-seat senate. By 1998, women dominated the Democratic caucus, with women holding 12 of 20 Democratic seats. The party caucus named Pingree majority leader. State Sen. Anne Rand of Portland serves as assistant majority leader.

So there was a real effort made to encourage women to get into politics and to win.

Since 1985, the proportion of women in the Maine Legislature has varied between 23.7 percent and a high of 32.8 percent in the early 1990s. In the latest session, women constitute 45.7 percent of the state Senate and 23.8 percent of the state House of Representatives, for an overall proportion of women of 28 percent. Nationwide, women hold 22.5 percent of all the state legislative seats.

Politicians and analysts say that the political culture in Maine, like a handful of other northern states, lends itself to a better representation of women than in states with more entrenched old-boy networks.

"We have this history of women in leadership," Pingree said. "It might be because women have always taken care of town politics, but there's no question that as a state we have a greater level of comfort with the idea of women being in charge."

Note that for some of this time the “30%” idea discussed here several weeks was achieved and more. It might be useful to study the issues dealt with by those bodies during those terms and the breakdown of votes on those issues to see if there is any validity to that theory. My rough count of the Maine House shows about 30% of the current members are women, possibly more, since I don’t know most of the ones with gender neutral first names.

Please also note, men took part in the effort to encourage women to run for office. I know that Mark Lawrence, who is a friend, put a lot of work into the effort.