Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Eight Anti-Woman Principles of The Most Extreme Types of MRAs

I have written about Men's Rights Activists (MRA) before. No doubt there are several subtypes of MRAs, some quite sane and interesting, but some neither of those.

One can always spot the latter type in comments threads, because they appear to share a canned and condensed message (like Campbell's tomato soup) which is always the same, whatever the topic of the article they comment on, as long as it's about women and/or feminism. That canned-and-condensed message always has certain parts, though other parts may vary. The shared bits amount to an argument that the traditional societal roles indeed were either equal OR that men are naturally the ruling sex among humans.

This argument also involves an interesting departure from the definition of feminism in the following sense:

Feminism, in my working definition, is the goal of offering all people equal economic and social opportunities irrespective of their gender and of equal valuation of the traditionally female and male fields of activity*.

Thus, one might expect an anti-feminist to work on that definition, especially the equal opportunities part, and some anti-feminists do (as seen later in this post). But the most important MRA principles really DON'T discuss equal opportunities for both genders and how traditional patriarchy might short-change not just women but also men. Instead, the main argument is that even in the traditional patriarchy men are worse off than women, and that this is the reason WHY traditional patriarchy should be brought back.

Here are a few of the most common anti-feminist (and anti-woman) arguments I keep reading in MRA comments and on the more careful MRA sites, together with my responses to them.

1. Women live longer, on average, which is a consequence of unfairness in the medical care systems of various countries. In particular, too much money is spent on breast cancer research and too little on prostate cancer research. Feminists don't care about this terrible inequality, and until they do so, MRAs will pee upon feminists. And, incidentally, all women.

I care about increasing the average life expectancy of men, because they don't deserve early deaths any more than women do, and lonely old age is not much fun for women who lose their male spouses, either.

But the reason for the differences between the life expectancies of men and women isn't in some horrendous plot by a feminist-manipulated health care system. It may be partly a biological difference (sorta like the difference in menstruation or who gives birth) and therefore not perhaps altogether amenable to changes in health care policies. Mostly, however, the difference comes from greater male mortality at earlier ages.

A death at an early age has a large impact on the life expectancy figures, and men are more likely to die early due to accidents (especially car accidents) and homicides. These are not some feminist plot against men, and neither are men required by feminists to engage in, say, reckless driving or to be the victims of violence (committed mostly by other men).

Rather the reverse. Any societal influence on these tragic early deaths is likely to come from traditional masculine cultures and the traditional male role models, the very kinds of values that many feminists question. So why is this an argument against feminism which tries to expand the opportunities of individuals irrespective of their gender? And why don't MRAs work with young boys to make them less likely to end up dead in a traffic accident or as a victim of violence?

2. Men are 95% (the figure from a comment by an MRA and not checked by me) of all on-the-job deaths. Feminists can only complain about earning less once 50% of those on-the-job deaths are of women.

This is an argument very much like the first one in that the MRA activists don't actually mean that men are forced by feminists to take up dangerous jobs. It's an argument for the traditional status quo of the type where women's lower average earnings are somehow balanced by men's greater on-the-job deaths.

But the gender gap in earnings is not much caused by those men who work in dangerous occupations. If we reallocated men and women across industries so as to get a gender-neutral division in the most dangerous occupations, women would still earn roughly as much less than is the case today. This is because the number of workers in dangerous occupations is not terribly large and because most earnings differences are caused by other characteristics than the dangers of a job.

Finally, as I have written earlier, the list of the most dangerous jobs only covers legal occupations. Prostitutes are excluded, even though one study suggested that they may have the most dangerous job of all jobs, and if we take the traditionalist argument of women's main jobs being the care of their children and husbands, so is that occupation excluded, which means that deaths from domestic violence are not counted.

Still, deaths on the job are a valid concern and I'd expect the MRAs to work hard to make the dangerous jobs safer. Incidentally, women were traditionally discriminated against or even explicitly excluded from many of the dangerous jobs and from night-work. One shouldn't turn that fact around into a supposed benefit that women reap by being under-represented in those industries.

3. Men are much more likely to be the victims of violence, yet violence against women gets more attention.

I'd like to rephrase that first sentence to "men are much more likely to be the victims of male violence than women", because the point is important. It's not feminist women who are out there killing men but mostly other men.

All violence is deplorable. Traditionally, much of the violence women experienced wasn't really counted as violence. Rape was not spoken about because it tainted the victim, date rape wasn't a term that existed at all and wife-beating was a private matter between the spouses. Because of the way traditional definitions of violence paid little attention to the types of violence which, in fact, were common experiences of women, feminists changed those traditional definitions. I'm not sure that violence against women gets more attention than violence in general, but it does get attention, these days.

As far as I can tell, the MRA guys aren't addressing the most common type of male-on-male violence. Doing that would be most admirable.

4. Men are much more likely to die in wars.

This is a fact, of course, but the point of presenting it is not to offer an astonishing new fact, but to argue that because women die in wars in smaller numbers (unless we are talking about nuclear war, say, or some modern types of warfare inside densely-populated communities) they have an advantage over men which should be taken into account when discussing gender equality.

That's the nice interpretation. Men fight wars to protect their women and children, and hence deserve a higher position on the totem pole. Of course the fighting is done against other men, not against women of the other "tribe", and of course women were traditionally banned from the armed forces. They still are banned from the armed forces of many countries. Even when women can serve they rarely are allowed to engage in roles where hand-to-hand combat is a possibility. And of course women (with the exception of a few queens) had traditionally very little power to start wars and so on.

This is a fascinating argument, because I've read it so many times as implying that feminists somehow have caused women to not be included in the armed forces! The memory hole swallows everything! The fact that women have been explicitly banned from the military is forgotten! The fact that women have had little power over starting wars is forgotten! The fact that feminists, in general, have advocated for women's full inclusion in the armed forces is forgotten!

5. Men are the majority of prison populations all over the world.

This is usually brought up as if prisons are filled by some method of just scooping people off the streets and as if there should be an equal number of men and women in prisons.

But the way one gets into a prison is somewhat different. The judicial systems of the world can be biased, and often are. The American system, for example, has been found guilty of both racial and gender bias in sentencing. Still, the main reason why there are so many more male prisoners is that men commit more crimes, i.e., even if the judicial systems worked fairly we'd find more incarcerated men.

Why is that the case? As I've mentioned, it could be that women (or at least the mothers of young children) get shorter sentences for similar crimes, because they are viewed as needed by children more often than men who might also be fathers. This bias is deplorable and should end. But its impact on the overall difference of male and female incarceration rates is unlikely to be large.

The larger reason is a gender difference in the rate at which crimes are committed, especially violent crimes. Here is another area in which MRAs could do commendable work, by changing the likelihood that young men drift into a life of crime. At the same time, the ideal feminist world would probably also work in that direction, so I'm not sure why the continuous use of this argument against feminism.

After all, one reason why men commit more crimes has to do with the traditional definitions of masculinity, the idea of man-the-provider and greater opportunities for men to commit crimes by their greater traditional presence in the public sector (including streets). Feminism would like those traditional definitions of masculinity to be less violent and feminism would like to see more sharing of the breadwinning role. Those could reduce the male need to commit crimes. Even the not-so-great move towards more women committing (especially non-violent) crimes with greater opportunities for crime works in that direction. So what's not to like in the feminist views?

6. Women have all the choices. They can choose a career or to stay at home or both. The only choice men have is to work and work and work.

Interesting. I didn't know that there are laws banning men from combining family and career or laws that state that men must work until they drop.

Here comes the first of all these principles which is explicitly about unequal opportunity by gender and it's not based on facts.

HOWEVER, the MRAs do have a point about the pressure of the traditional male gender role here. While the female gender role has changed pretty dramatically in the last forty years, the male gender role has changed much less. As a consequence, many men feel as if they are forced into paid work as the sign of what men should do. But it's all inside their heads. Any man who wishes to have a different kind of combination of work and fatherhood should negotiate this with his partner and should think about this while choosing a partner in the first place.

That's the advice I always see offered to women. But I should repeat that no law bars men from becoming SAHDs. I should also point out that most women don't actually have all those choices. Most women work because they need the money, just as most men do. I'm all for a more egalitarian sharing of household and child-rearing chores, by the way, and so are many other feminists. So why the anger towards us when it comes to being able to have more choice in the labor market and at home? Why don't the MRAs join with us to negotiate more humane working conditions, better parental leave and so on?

Variants of this argument state that women decide to stay at home eating bonbons, decide to take long maternity leaves and otherwise ride on the backs of men who work until they drop while their wives go out shopping. Similar answers suffice for those, though of course they are much more misogynistic versions. A heterosexual man wanting to take a long paternity leave or to ride on the back of his wife or to go on shopping sprees should negotiate that with his partner.

It sounds as if the MRAs don't like the traditional male gender role. Feminists tend to agree. But while feminists would like to make gender roles less rigid, many MRAs want to see women put back into an equally rigid female gender role.

7.Most homeless people are men. Because the homeless are the poorest of all people, men are worse off than women.

This argument conflates two different things. Though it is true that men have a higher homelessness rate than women, it's not because men are poorer than women. In fact, the poor may be more likely to be female than male, even in the US.

According to 1996 data, the best estimate for the percentage of homeless people who are male is 68%. This percentage is higher in cities (71%) and lower in suburban areas (55%). The latter figure suggests that one reason women are a small percentage of the homeless in the cities may be the additional danger that being female causes them on city streets. Another reason may be more help available for women who are homeless together with young children.

The male-homelessness argument is used to defend the idea that the men at the top of the society are balanced by the men at the bottom of the society, and that therefore the overall patriarchal society is a fair one. But note that none of this is about equal opportunity, and given that the homeless may not be the poorest of the poor, neither is this evidence for some weird kind of balancing mechanism.

Indeed, any analysis of more international data refutes the argument that men are both the richest and the poorest individuals. Women are the majority of the global poor, for example.

I should also point out that homeless men and the damage caused by past wars may be correlated, so that the other MRA arguments above could in some sense seen as causing this one!

8.Custodial courts are biased against men and fathers. Domestic violence cases are biased against heterosexual men or for heterosexual women.

These arguments are major ones among the MRAs. Indeed, they may be the reason why some men become Men's Rights Activists (which really is an inappropriate term for those men who are Patriarchy Activists and/or misogynists, see this comment thread for a zillion examples). Losing custody of your children can tear a heart apart and being accused of domestic violence when you didn't commit it or when you think you didn't commit it can make a person bitter towards the whole world. Of course being the victim of domestic violence can literally stop your heart and leave you no time for bitterness.

The problem with discussing these bias arguments is in the need to read not only the studies MRAs proffer but also the studies their opponents offer, and I have done neither to a sufficient extent to conclusively judge the fairness or the unfairness of these court systems. But in principle the question is an empirical one and should be capable of an empirical answer, with good enough research.

That sounds so lame, doesn't it? I should end with some kind of a snappy summary of all the research in these two fields. But I haven't read it. Though neither have the MRA guys, except for the studies which support their point of view. And one family court lawyer I talked to (NOT a feminist, by the way, oh no) stated that the courts in at least his state are biased towards fathers and against mothers. Thus, to make a claim about bias in the court system is not the same as finding such a bias. As I stated, the latter is a task for empirical research on a wide scale and carried out by as neutral researchers as possible.

The domestic violence argument the MRAs make is even trickier. The Wikipedia link on domestic violence gives you a flavor of it, though beware of the possibility of bias in Wikipedia, too. I quote from it:

Dr. Martin Fiebert, from the Department of Psychology of California State University, has compiled an annotated bibliography of research relating to spousal abuse by women on men. This bibliography examines 275 scholarly investigations: 214 empirical studies and 61 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 365,000.[105]

However, in a review of the research Michael Kimmel found that violence is instrumental in maintaining control and that more than 90 percent of "systematic, persistent, and injurious" violence is perpetrated by men. He points out that most of the empirical studies that Fiebert reviewed used the same empirical measure of family conflict, i.e., the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) as the sole measure of domestic violence and that many of the studies noted by Fiebert discussed samples composed entirely of single people younger than 30, and not married couples.[106] Kimmel argues that among various other flaws, the CTS is particularly vulnerable to reporting bias because it depends on asking people to accurately remember and report what happened during the past year. However, men tend to under-estimate their use of violence, while women tend to over-estimate their use of violence. Simultaneously men tend to over-estimate their partner's use of violence while women tend to under-estimate their partner's use of violence. Thus, men will likely over-estimate their victimization, while women tend to underestimate theirs.[107]

Similarly, the National Institute of Justice states that the studies that find that women abuse men equally or even more than men abuse women are based on data compiled through the Conflict Tactics Scale, a survey tool developed in the 1970s and which may not be appropriate for intimate partner violence research because it does not measure control, coercion, or the motives for conflict tactics; it also leaves out sexual assault and violence by ex-spouses or partners and does not determine who initiated the violence. Furthermore, the NIJ contends that national surveys supported by NIJ, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics that examine more serious assaults do not support the conclusion of similar rates of male and female spousal assaults. These surveys are conducted within a safety or crime context and clearly find more partner abuse by men against women.[108]

Straus and Gelles found in couples reporting spousal violence, 27% of the time the man struck the first blow; the woman in 24%. The rest of the time, the violence was mutual, with both partners brawling. The results were the same even when the most severe episodes of violence were analyzed. In order to counteract claims that the reporting data was skewed, female-only surveys were conducted, asking females to self-report, and the data was the same.[109]

The simple tally of violent acts is typically found to be similar in those studies that examine both directions, but some studies show that men's violence may be more serious. Men's violence may do more damage than women's;[110] women are much more likely to be injured and/or hospitalized, wives are much more likely to be killed by their husbands than the reverse (59%-41% Dept of Justice study), and women in general are more likely to be killed by their spouse than by all other types of assailants combined.[111]
Hmmm. Note, however, that physical chastising of wives by husbands has traditionally been accepted in many cultures and still is in many, whereas we don't have similar traditions about wives chastising their husbands. This historical difference makes me somewhat mistrusting of arguments which suggest that both genders are equally guilty of intimate partner violence, especially as women are more likely to be found in the death statistics.


What always strikes me as odd about the most fervent MRA guys is how very focused they are not on men's rights but on the return of a complete patriarchy where women would have few rights. The position of the most extreme type of MRAs can be summarized as "Heel, bitch." That there are so many of that type makes it hard for me to take the rest of the MRAs seriously. Add to this the eagerness with which the average blog commenting MRA embraces all sex differences that benefit men as biologically or divinely determined and you have to admit that I have exerted admirable tolerance in writing this post as politely as I did.
*A comment to this post made me realize that I should have defined those traditionally male and female spheres of activity more precisely. It's not a reference to male- and female-dominated job categories in the labor force, but a reference to older gender-based division of labor in the public vs. private sector of society and within the households.

Eight Reasons Not To Date A P**n Star

I happened on an article with that title on some site called Guyism. Probably the place where guys are made into guys? You should read the post, with its eight reasons, because it is hilarious, though not perhaps in the way it was meant to be. I'm only going to discuss a few of those reasons here, though I should mention that none of the reasons consider the danger of getting sexually transmitted diseases.

My instant thought after seeing the title of that post is that of course most men wouldn't want to date a pron star! That's for masturbation, not for marriage, after all, and the whore/madonna dichotomy is still strong in the culture. Besides, as I have suggested before, the ownership of women's sexual availability has that public/private division and pron starts definitely fall on the public side. Dating tends to fall on the private side of that fence.

Let's have a look at the few of the reasons why a guy shouldn't date a pron star. Here's reason number eight:

The fact that someone is a porn star is often misconstrued by men as "she'll be most likely to have sex with me because it is her job, after all." And while you may be basking in the thought of sleeping with one; you probably couldn't be more off-base. But, if you were dating an adult actress, men would hit on her everywhere she went. Of course this happens with every beautiful woman, but coupled with the delusion that every guy that hits on her in a grocery store probably thinks shes going to immediately take them to their car and change their life sexually in the back row of the Trader Joe's parking lot — you have a makings of a potentially volatile situation every time you go out in public.
Guess who else might not want to date the pron star for that reason? The star herself. Wherever she goes, pron-consuming men will think that she is available in the public sense of women's sexuality. The imaginary guy here can avoid the situation by not dating her. She cannot.

And what about reason number seven, that the man dating a pron star would have to defend her against the approaches of other men? Well, that goes for the star herself, too, unless she is expected to be open to such approaches.

Reason number three points out that people will call her a slut or a whore and you might not want to be around when that happens. But she will be around when that happens.

Finally reason number two:

People are going to want pictures and autographs from her

This is probably going to be uncomfortable and borderline inappropriate. "Can I see your piercings?" and "Will you sign my ass?" and "Now, tell me this isn't the biggest one you've ever seen?" will become the questions you will start to hear in your sleep.
Sigh. Guess who else is hearing those questions in her sleep.

So it goes.

Well, the whole post is not that different from some dating pieces in women's magazines (though I'm yet to come across one where people debate the pros and cons of women dating a male pron star). It's meant as something light and entertaining, not as something that a mean feminazi will try to take apart.

But I'm concerned about the way pron is changing the expectations of people when it comes to sex. The linked post suggests that roughly 100% of men watch pron, and if that's true then it is very important to keep asking what it is that pron gets wrong and how it presents a one-sided view of sex which could bias the assumptions men and women hold about real life sexuality.
The euphemisms are so that this blog doesn't get x-rated again.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Housekeeping Announcement

I realized that I cannot finish my series on the science of sex differences this week. Though the posts are not based on loads of extra research, they tend to end up long and I just don't have the energy to write the four posts I have in mind right now. So they (or most of them) will be posted over the next few weeks.

My apologies for that.

More On The Scott Sisters

When I wrote my short good-news post on their release, I didn't know that Governor Haley Barbour allowed the release on the condition that Gladys Scott would donate one of her kidneys to her sister, Jamie, who suffers from renal failure:

But an unusual aspect of the arrangement is also drawing scrutiny: Barbour said his action was "conditioned on" one sister donating a kidney to the other.

The case involves sisters serving double life sentences for armed robbery convictions. Barbour agreed this week to suspend their sentences in light of the poor health of 38-year-old Jamie Scott, who requires regular dialysis. The governor said in a statement that 36-year-old Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her giving a kidney to her inmate sibling.

"The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Barbour said in the statement. "Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi. . . . Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency."
Nasty. Very, very nasty. And note how this discussion is turning our eyes away from the fact that the Scott sisters' sentence was atrociously unfair to begin with.

But worry not! If Gladys' kidney turns out not to match she doesn't have to go back to prison! Mindboggling. That Gladys may have suggested this "trade" is irrelevant. Prisoners should not be released on the basis of such "trades" or because their cases cost the state of Mississippi too much.

Otherwise any prisoner with rich relatives could simply buy his or her way out. I know that we don't have the kind of justice system children are taught at school but at least we shouldn't turn it into some explicit market system.

RIP, Isabella Caro

Isabella Caro was a French actor and model. She died last November at the age of twenty-eight. She had suffered from anorexia since the age thirteen, and in 2007 posed for a publicity campaign about the illness. At the time she weighed less than seventy pounds. One picture from the campaign:

It's unclear whether Caro's death was caused by her anorexia or whether it simply made her less able to resist other diseases, and it's equally unclear whether her illness was solely triggered by the modeling industry, though it clearly had a role:

Caro reports that while a teen a designer asked her to lose 10 kilos (22 pounds) if she wanted to be in the fashion world, and that's when she decided to stop eating and lose weight. She ended up being an anorexic.

Geraldine Doyle: 1924-2010 (by res ipsa loquitur)

The woman on whose image Rosie the Riveter was based has died. Rosie started life as a way to motivate and recruit workers during World War II and wound up a feminist icon. But Geraldine Doyle didn't know that a UPI photo taken of her working in a metal shop had inspired the artist who drew the famous World War II-era poster until 1984.
"You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help have some in that poster," Mrs. Doyle told the Lansing State Journal in 2002. "It's just sad I didn't know it was me sooner."
In addition to being a metal worker and the inspiration for what would become a section of America's cultural wallpaper, Geraldine Doyle was a cellist and a mom. RIP.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good News

The Scott sisters have had their prison sentences indefinitely suspended, which means, in normal language, that they can get out of prison. They were sentenced in a 1994 robbery case which netted a total of eleven dollars, and have been in prison ever since. Which really was a travesty of justice.

The Deep Question Of The Day

A friend (who has read this blog) asked if I ever write anything fun here.

Any suggestions of cheerful and fun issues?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saving money and your hard-on: another Assange update (by Suzie)

Monday's NYT quotes London's Sunday Times quoting Julian Assange on the book deal that may bring him $1.7 million.
"I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat."
Mr. Assange also told the newspaper that he had already spent more than $300,000 on his legal fight to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.
I have some money-saving tips for him:
-- Treat women better.
-- Return to Sweden.
-- Give up your salary of at least $86,000. This figure comes from the Wau Holland Foundation, which pays a lot of WL bills with donations. We don't know if other entities also contribute to your salary, nor do we know if you get additional money for expenses. Your fans will cover your material needs.

Proceeds from the book will go to him, not WL, and that gives him additional job security.
Today in the NYT, Katrin Bennhold asks her girlfriends: "Is it rape when you have sex with someone who didn’t tell you it was OK, but told you it was OK earlier that night?" Almost all said no. But this isn't the same as Ms. W's allegation. According to leaked documents, he lost interest in sex when W insisted he wear a condom. Later, he "agreed unwillingly" to use one. In the morning while she was sleeping, he didn't use a condom when he penetrated her. She clearly had not consented to sex without a condom.

Unlike most of Bennhold's friends, W and Assange were not in a steady relationship, and she was much younger. Bennhold calls her a groupie, but we know only that she greatly admired him and welcomed his attention. We have no idea if she came to his speech to try to get him to have sex with her, although it shouldn't matter if she did. If W is a groupie, what would Bennhold call the head of an organization who has sex with two volunteers in the same week?
Assange said his other accuser took a photo of him naked in bed. I can't decide which account I find funnier: Gawker's or Wonkette's.
When the story first broke about the condom breaking (or being torn), some fans squeed that Assange must have a really big penis, and that's also why he doesn't like condoms. Not necessarily. As the Kinsey Institute noted in a study this year, men who can't sustain an erection while wearing a condom are less likely to wear a condom while having sex. (Duh.)
Men who reported having sex with three or more partners in the past three months were almost twice as likely to report erection loss compared with men having fewer partners. These findings underline the importance of encouraging men to discuss condom use with new lovers.
Men who lost their erections were much more likely to remove condoms prematurely, or to report that the condoms broke. Earlier research showed that men who didn't know how to use a condom properly were more likely to report breakage.
ETA: On the HuffPost today, investigative journalist Nick Davies of The Guardian defends the excerpting of Swedish police documents.
Assange's UK lawyer tried very hard to persuade us to suppress the file. He argued that since Assange had been a source for our stories, we should 'protect' him. I reckon that that is an invitation to journalistic corruption, to hide information in order to curry favor with a source. We were right to publish. ...
It has been a depressing experience to see some of those who were most furious at the global propaganda run by Bush and Rumsfeld now leading the cheers for a new campaign of misinformation, happy to be manipulated, content to recycle falsehood and distortion no matter what damage they may do.
Yahoo reports: David Leigh, The Guardian's investigations editor, said they actually saved Assange some embarrassment: "Nick left out a lot of graphic and damaging material in the allegations because he thought it would be too cruel to publish them."
ETA2, from Gawker:
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently holed up in an English country mansion, fighting extradition to Sweden where he faces a sex crime investigation. What better time for Newsweek to publish an exclusive photo gallery: "Christmas with Julian."

If this leaking thing doesn't work out, Assange may want to embark on a career as an Eddie Bauer model: See an apple-cheeked Julian tossing firewood; see him reading his fan mail in a tasteful pullover, or frolicking in a santa suit, carrying a novelty toy sack that reads "Dear Santa, I've been very, very, very good (most of the time.)" Haw haw. His style says, "Sure, I'm under house arrest in a mansion because of creepy sex crime allegations, but I also appreciate fine scotch and the company of a good hunting dog."

Looking For Sex Differences. The Complications

This is the second post about my quick impressions after reading three critical books about the science of sex differences, and it has to do with the preliminary questions researchers ask, how they frame the research and perhaps even the question how one becomes a researcher of biological sex differences. (The first post can be found here.)

Publication and Study Biases

Note first, that almost all of us are viewed as either female or male by the society. None of the researchers of sex differences among humans are non-sexed aliens from outer space (well, I don't think so though one never knows for sure) and every one of them has already made his or her non-scientific impressions about gendered behavior and what might cause it.

If your impressions make you believe that gendered behavior is mostly caused by biological sex differences, you are much more likely to enter a field studying those differences than if your impressions make you believe that gendered behavior is mostly caused by either environmental and cultural factors or some complicated soup of all possible factors.

Because of this, I believe that the overall field of biological sex differences may have an inner bias in what questions it analyzes and how it looks at the evidence: It will begin with observed gender differences in a particular society and then move from that to the attempt to find corresponding biological differences as an explanation for those. Environmental/cultural factors will be mentioned, but astonishingly seldom actually controlled for. This may over-attribute gender differences to biological sex differences.

I am not arguing that these biases were overt. They are most likely unacknowledged, except in a few famous cases of clear misogyny being the motivating factor (coughBaron-Cohencough).

But what it probably DOES mean is that the research will search for certain types of differences, ignore other types of differences and most certainly ignore the similarities which are found. It also means that alternative explanations will be down-played.

The same thing would also happen if there was a science of sex similarities. But it doesn't exist, so we don't have to worry about that one! Whenever results fail to show a sex difference they are either "put into a file drawer" (meaning that they are not published), never to see sunlight again, or they are posted in a rewritten form where something else is emphasized as the major finding.

The file drawer bias in research findings is not unique for the field of sex differences. It applies to most research where findings of "no support for a particular theory I like" are not published as often as they should be.

But its impact is especially severe in this field, because the process of excluding certain kinds of findings from public awareness is two-fold here: First, findings of "no difference" are under-reported in the academic publications, and, second, the popularizers grab almost always only those findings which reinforce the story of biological/evolutionary sex differences.

To see how this research bias works in quite subtle forms, consider the vast literature into women and girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Jordan-Young defines it as follows (pp 30-31 in Brainstorm):

This syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes overproduction of androgens from the adrenal glands, is the most common cause of genital ambiguity. Androgens are elevated throughout fetal development, which is an especially unusual situation for female fetuses. Because of the hypothesis that high androgen levels may masculinize the brain as well as the genitals, people with this disorder -- especially girls and women -- have been much studied by scientists interested in brain organization.
CAH women and girls are a major source of data for those who want to analyze biological sex differences and also one of the pieces of evidence which is usually offered as support for innate causes of masculine vs. feminine behavior. Jordan-Young discusses these studies in great detail and I recommend reading her book on those.

What I want to discuss here is the way these studies have tried to control for all other possible effects than CAH. This is by comparing CAH women/girls to their female siblings or to some larger population of women/girls without CAH but with the same age, ethnicity, social class and so on. A neat way of controlling for any environmental factors, right?

Not quite, and the reason is that having CAH means corrective surgery, continuous medical supervision (every three months during childhood and adolescence) and hormonal treatments to induce higher adult height, for example. What is not controlled for in the vast majority of CAH studies are these very facts, because the control group consists of individuals who are not suffering from a chronic condition. Neither do these studies really control for the stigma of CAH and the way it affects the woman's sexual and reproductive opportunities.

To give an idea of one study which did try to take these into account (Brainstorm p. 229):

While some aspects of interest are indisputably masculinized in girls and women with CAH, perhaps an "organizing" effect of prenatal androgens is not the best explanation. Note especially that few studies have attempted to evaluate the effect of illness itself, or the medical intervention that chronic illness entails. As an exception, Froukje Slijper (1984) compared girls with CAH to girls with diabetes as well as to healthy controls and found that both groups of girls with chronic illness scored in the more masculine range than controls on the gender scale.
The Search For Sex Differences And Their Meaning*

How does one go about searching for biological differences between the sexes in fields such as cognition? The obvious answer (problematic though it is, as will be seen) is that one starts with observed differences, then excludes non-biological explanations and finally tries to find some other difference, preferably genetic or prenatal, which can be linked to those observed behavioral differences.

Sounds good, right? Or at least familiar. But what if we reversed the search? What if we could begin with some biological sex differences and then see what they produce in the behavior of the sexes? Some of that search might even find that such differences produce not gender differences in behavior but gender similarities!

Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender (pp. 142-143):

One very striking example of the principle that brain difference can yield behavioral similarity, discussed by De Vries, comes from the prairie vole. In this species, males and females contribute equally to parenting (excepting, of course, nursing). In female prairie voles, parenting behavior is primed by the hormonal changes of pregnancy. But this leaves a mystery. How do father voles, which experience none of these hormonal changes, come to show paternal behavior? The answer turns out to lie in part of a region of the brain called the lateral septum, which is involved in the triggering of parental behavior. This part of the brain is very different in males and females, being much more richly endowed with receptors of the hormone vasopressin in the male, yet this striking sex difference in the brain enables male and female prairie voles to behave the same.
Of course humans are not prairies voles. But neither are humans rats, and I keep reading how rat behavior is relevant for understanding the limitations of the human female all the time.

It's therefore important to remember that we may be biased if we start only with observed gender differences in behavior. It's quite possible to have biological sex differences which create similarities in behavior by compensating for some other biological difference between the sexes.

Not that all observed gender differences get the same attention from the researchers or the politicizers, by the way. You may well be aware of the clear difference in the average score between men/boys and women/girls in the skill of three-dimensional mental rotation. That one has been extensively studied. It's political uses are equally many.

But this is not the only test of spatial ability in which we find gender differences. Lise Eliot in Pink Brain, Blue Brain (p. 122) discusses the object-location test. This consists of showing test subjects a picture with many randomly scattered objects, and then showing them a different picture with some objects moved to different positions:

The task is to circle the items still in their original place and cross out the items that had been moved.

A recent summary of more than three-dozen such studies shows that women have a small-to-moderate advantage in object-location memory, but the difference depends in part on the type of objects subjects are asked to remember. Women do better with most objects except for stereotypically masculine ones, like a necktie, golf ball, trophy, suit coat and aftershave (men are better at remembering these objects' locations.)
How fascinating that the gendering of objects matters in this test! That suggests to me that the three-dimensional mental rotation tests should be done with a weird furry creature or a six-legged and asymmetric Barbie doll, instead of something that looks like building blocks, especially given that those are now sold in boys' aisles in toy stores.

It's important to note that one can practice these kinds of spacial abilities and raise one's scores that way. This means that the scores do not measure a purely innate characteristic.

A Final Reminder

It is important to remember our biases and partial blindness when discussing this field. Jordan-Young, Brainstorm, p. 256:

Historians and philosophers of science are giving increased attention to the way that gaps in knowledge, as well as knowledge itself, are actively produced and maintained. The study of this phenomenon, what Tuana calls "the epistemology of ignorance" and Proctor (2008) calls "agnotology" reveals that specific ideologies, cultural schema, and political interests systematically block certain forms of information and cause people to "forget" or fail to incorporate certain facts into the overall thinking on the subject.
*Added later: I forgot to note here that much recent research suggests a very complicated interplay between what used to be called nature vs. nurture, and that in some ways we may have been asking the wrong questions even more generally.

Monday, December 27, 2010


That's the best I can get to while saying "snow" right now. Seventeen inches of it has fallen and after several bouts of vigorous shoveling my sinuses have packed their little suitcases and moved to the Bahamas. Which is the shadow side of winter.

But newly-fallen snow is wonderful! The way it envelops and blankets the visual world, turning it into an architectural and austere pen-and-ink drawing, except for the fluffiness of the snow. The way sounds are muffled and made distant contributes to that strange feeling of being both exposed and safely contained in the snow.

This is the time of the year when I miss my dogs the most, because nothing was as hilarious to watch as their great happiness with new-fallen snow. My Hank used to turn herself into an industrial plow, drilling straight ahead, and sometimes I'd only see her tail and ears in the middle of the snow-plow effect. Henrietta would take snow baths, lying on her back and wriggling, and then she'd toss a lump of snow in the air and swallow it in one big gulp. Then the both of them would take off and run down slopes, sometimes making somersaults, and mostly ending next to me while shaking themselves vigorously. Mmm.

On Ballerinas And Football Players: The Failure of Gender-Neutral Parenting


This week I'm going to write up some of the ideas I got from reading on the science of sex differences, off-the-cuff mostly and as short summaries of certain topics which keep cropping up in the books.

The first of them is that clever quip of one of the bully boyz of EP (the scary type of evolutionary psychology; I use the capitals for them). It goes like this:

What are the people called who don't believe in innate sex differences? Answer: Childless.

It doesn't come as a great surprise, then, that every single one of the authors of the three books I read mentioned that when they were talking about their book projects, parents would always tell them the same story: They (the parents) brought their children up in a gender-neutral fashion, and what did they get? Girls in pink ballet tutus and boys in blue football uniforms! Ergo, sex differences are all innate, every single one of them.

Well, it's pretty clear that upbringing has much to do with such differences (as I will discuss in later posts this week), but sure, some differences are most likely innate. Though ballet tutus and football uniforms or the color preferences for blue or pink are not. They are all culture-coded as things that girls can like and things that boys can like. Go into any toy store and check for yourselves.

A Theory About Gender And Toys

Indeed, I was very pleased to find my own theory about how this gender-coding happens mentioned in one of the books, though of course proposed by someone else. It goes like this:

Children at a certain age appear to have a very strong need to determine their own sex and how that sex is supposed to behave. They become little gender police officers, forcing other children to follow the same rules. This need may well be innate (though see later in this post).

What the cues are for how one's sex behaves depends on the culture the children find themselves in. For example, a child growing up in an African tribe where only men weave will soon learn to think of weaving as something men do, but a child growing up in an African tribe where only women weave will soon learn to think of weaving as something women do. It happens that there have been tribes with both these gendered divisions of labor, and though I made up the example of how children might react to them, it's not an unlikely consequence of a gendered world that boys would try weaving in one tribe and refuse to try it in the other tribe, and vice versa for girls.

Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that there wouldn't be innate differences in children's play. It's just to point out that things like the colors pink and blue are clearly societal and not something to do with genes. They only became firmly connected with gender in the current order (at first pink was proposed for boys as the more virile color of the two) less than a hundred years ago.

How would one test the theory I summarized above?

Ideally, children should be brought up in the middle of nowhere so that they get hold of no television or other images that have to do with sex and gender, and, ideally, all the adults should model reverse gender roles.

Why Gender-Neutral Child-Rearing Is Impossible

Such an experiment is impossible. But so is the experiment of bringing children up in a gender-neutral fashion in a world where practically NOTHING is gender-neutral. What the parents say about this may not be what they do, in any case, but even if they tried their utmost, the society will cause the plot to backfire.

Cordelia Fine makes the point best in Delusions of Gender (pp 209-210):

Imagine, for a moment, that we could tell at birth (or even before) whether a child was left-handed or right-handed. By convention, the parent of left-handed babies dress them in pink clothes, wrap them in pink blankets, and decorate their rooms with pink hues. The left-handed baby's bottle, bibs and pacifiers -- and later, cups, plates and utensils, lunch box, and backpack -- are often pink or purple with motifs such as butterflies, flowers and fairies. Parents tend to let the hair of left-handers grow long, and while it is still short in babyhood a barrette or a bow (often pink) serves as a stand-in. Right-handed babies, by contrast, are never dressed in pink, nor do they ever have pink accessories or toys. Although blue is a popular color for right-handed babies, as they get older any color, excluding pink and purple, is acceptable. Clothing and other items for right-handed babies and children commonly portray vehicles, sporting equipment, and space rockets; never butterflies, flowers or fairies. The hair of right-handers is usually kept short and never prettified with accessories.

Nor do parents just segregate left- and right-handers symbolically; with color and motif, in our imaginary world. They also distinguish between them verbally. "Come on left-handers!" cries out the mother of two left-handed children in the park. "Time to go home." Or they might say, "Well, go and ask that right-hander if you can have a turn on the swing now." At playgroup, children overhear comments like, "Left-handers love drawing, don't they," and "Are you hoping for a right-hander this time?" to a pregnant mother. At preschool, the teacher greets them with a cheery, "Good morning, left-handers and right-handers." In the supermarket, a father says proudly in response to a polite enquiry, "I've got three children altogether, one left-hander and two right-handers."

And finally, although left-handers and right-handers happily live together in homes and communities, children can't help but notice that elsewhere they are often physically segregated. The people who care for them -- primary caregivers, child care workers, and kindergarten teachers, for example -- are almost all left-handed, while building sites and garbage trucks are peopled by right-handers. Public restrooms, sport teams, many adult friendships, and even some schools, are segregated by handedness.

You get the idea.

It's not hard to imagine that in such a society, even very young children would soon learn that there are two categories of people -- right-handers and left-handers -- and would quickly proficient in using markers like clothing and hairstyle to distinguish between the two kinds of children and adults. But also, it seems more than likely that children would also come to think that there must be something fundamentally important about whether one is a right-hander or a left hander, since so much fuss and emphasis is put on the distinction. Children will, one would imagine, want to know what it means to be someone of a particular handedness and to learn what sets apart a child of one handedness from those with a preference for the other hand.

We tag gender in exactly these ways, all of the time.
I borrowed such a long quote because it is an important one. Bringing a child up in a gender-neutral fashion is impossible in a society which regards gender as the crucial aspect of children. Just think of the first question people ask of new parents.

What Do Children's Toy Choices Share?

At this point I'd like to turn the science of gender differences upside down and pay a bit more attention to gender similarities in toy choice.

Gender-neutral toys are many and include various games, balls, coloring books, crayons and building blocks. (At least this is true in studies of children's play, though Legos and Lincoln Logs are now stocked with boys' toys in toy stores.) But those are not the ones I want to discuss here. Instead, I want to ask what the pink ballerina outfits and the blue football uniforms share.

A funny thing happens when you ask that question, or at least it happened to me. I immediately realized that ballerinas and princesses are the female equivalent of football players and space heros.

These are all highly valued roles for individuals of a particular gender. In short, both girls and boys aim high in their play schemes, even though they pick their heroes on the basis of a gendered code. Note also that ballet is a strenuous physical exercise. When girls' choices are discussed, we rarely notice the similarity between ballerinas and football players in that sense.

And One Final Difference

I'm concluding this post by drawing your attention to one difference between girls and boys which crops up in study after study but doesn't seem to get much attention. This is the fact that the aversion towards the toys of the other sex is not symmetrical. Boys refuse "girls' toys" more than girls refuse "boys' toys" and play with them shorter lengths of time when they are not refused.

I found this pattern fascinating, because traces of it can be seen in the behavior of adults (in, say the percentages of men and women who read books written by the other gender), too, and because "a tomboy" is mostly not punished for her behavior but "a sissy" is (this is an actual research term, believe it or not!).

What causes the stronger gender-coding by boys (and men)? Is it the fact that they have more to lose from gender-deviant behavior, given that women still have less power, in general? Could it be that parents discourage "gender-deviant" play more for boys than for girls because of the differential costs of it for each sex? Or is there a "girls have cooties" gene?

Well, I doubt that last theory myself.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sweden & Saudi Arabia (by Suzie)

Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism. I fell into a hornets' nest of revolutionary feminism. -- Julian Assange
Too bad he didn't ask any of his Swedish men friends about the matriarchy that rules the country before he requested residency there. He was denied, but what did he expect, as an unwed father traveling alone? It's amazing he was even allowed in without being accompanied by, or at least with the permission of, his mother.

Once he became a resident, he wouldn't have been allowed to drive in Stockholm, and he certainly couldn't gallivant around the globe and expect to return in good standing. At least people wouldn't make so many jokes about his hair -- it would be covered. Since only 5 percent of Swedish men are employed, it's hard to imagine an NGO paying him at least $86,000 a year. At least he could have done much of his work from home.

As the toast of leftist patriarchy, maybe he never thought that concepts of liberty and privacy could be so horribly twisted as to apply to women's autonomy over their bodies. In Sweden, I thought he could get no more than four years if convicted of rape. But now that I understand Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism, he would probably be stoned to death. He should be glad that he doesn't have any Swedish women in his family, lest they kill him to restore the family honor.
I understand that some of you, if not all, are burned out on Assange and WikiLeaks. I swear I'm trying to stop myself from posting anything else.
P.S. Assange may want to speak to WikiLeaks's spokesman in Iceland to ensure Iceland isn't the Iran of feminism.

My Christmas Reading: The Science of Sex Differences

I finished Lise Eliot's Pink Brain, Blue Brain. I then read Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, and then Rebecca M. Jordan-Young's Brainstorm.The Flaws in The Science of Sex Differences. I have read the other side of the debate in the past.

Short conclusions (much more will appear in later posts:

1. Do not read all these in two days or so. You get tremendously angry and then you kick holes in the garage door.

2. The history of sex differences in science is a nasty one, and there's not much reason to expect we are doing much better right now.

The general tendency seems to be to grab onto any particular innate explanation as the right one. In the nineteenth century it was women's smaller brains or something odd about the spinal cord connecting the pelvis to the brain or wandering wombs.

In the twentieth century it was any observable difference in some brain part, and any differences found were then interpreted as meaning that they show why men are better, pretty much. In some cases the differences turned out to be reversed, but suddenly THAT was why men did better in some cognitive field.

And all this was always interpreted as "hard-wiring", not possible to change and eternal, despite the fact that the actual behavior of men and women was changing at the very same time, and despite more recent findings which show the brain changing with how it is actually used. In short, we (or some group of people) have a bias to welcome findings of innate differences and a bias to resist a more complicated treatment of the topic. I have seen exactly the same with the recent chimpanzees and sticks study.

3. Anyone willing to study innate sex differences between men and women is already biased in one particular direction. This is ignored almost totally, even though anyone finding sex similarities is labeled as biased.

4. Really bad research is regarded seriously when it reinforces basic stereotypes. Really good research is ignored when it fails to reinforce basic stereotypes.

To give an example of the former, studies which measure the correlation between unusual prenatal testosterone exposure in girls and "masculine" behavior almost always use a large number of measures for "masculine" behavior. Almost all of the published studies in this field find one or two significant differences. But they may have studied fifteen such measures or even twenty measures! Yet the finding of those one or two significant differences is publicized as an important one. Statistically speaking, such findings are quite likely to be flukes.

5. The "file drawer" aspect (i.e., that certain types of studies fail to get published) is tremendously strong in this field.

It takes two forms: Studies which don't find differences are often not published at all OR are published in a form which focuses on something else than the sex difference, and later studies which cannot reproduce the differences found in an early (and now very famous) study are not disseminated outside the narrow research community.

The consequences of these are that people in general believe science has found a humongous number of purely innate differences and people go around believing research results which have been falsified in later (invisible) research.

6. I'm becoming very suspicious of a few "researchers" or popularizers as actually knowing that they are lying or utterly not caring one way or the other, just to sell books or ideas. I even wonder about the actual research of a few of them. This is because nobody has been able to replicate the oh-so-famous findings, even in studies which were much better done in the methods sense.

7. If a difference is found which appears to handicap men or boys (say, verbal skills and reading skills), the next step is to argue for compensatory actions in the society. If a difference is found which appears to handicap women or girls (say, three-dimensional mental rotation abilities), the next step is to argue that nothing can be done at all, and that any compensatory treatment should cease this minute.

So, How Did I Do Playing Seer? [Anthony McCarthy}

Note: I always hate it when alleged news program spends time making predictions about the future that they could spend on reporting, not that they'd use the time for that anti-oligarchic practice.

I'm not a reporter, I am not a journalist, and I indulged in making a list or predictions about a year ago and, since I've complained about people not being held accountable for theirs, here's the record. Other than Harry Reid winning his election (I didn't foresee Sharon Angle) I'd say it's a mixed record.

Predictions for 2010 by Anthony McCarthy

Larry Summers will say or do something massively embarrassing and damaging to the Obama administration and the welfare of the large majority of Americans. Given the media we have, it will be his saying something embarrassing instead of doing something damaging that could force his resignation. Though I wouldn’t count on that.

Barack Obama will be pressured to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. That he is “losing Iraq” will be the leverage used to pressure him to do this. He will give in.

On the positive side, Barack Obama will continue to do relatively small things that will improve things, which will be nice but mostly inadequate. If one of the right-wingers on the Supreme Court needs to be replaced, he might do a relatively big thing to improve things. Appointing Justice Sotomayor was the best thing he has done to date. If he somehow gets to replace two, it could be huge and big enough to make having elected him worth it. However, if the replacements act to sustain the fiction of corporate personhood or money as speech, those will be of negligible worth. Corporate personhood will become even more of a danger to us as it is used to attack the possibility of democracy and equality.

The Senate will remain the greatest break on change we can believe in. The fiction of Democratic control will hurt the party in the elections this year. Harry Reid will, thankfully, lose his election. He will have done little to make his time as the Democratic leader unregrettable. The worst features of the Senate will be on full display throughout the year, Senators will be largely unaware of the shame they are earning. They seem to be impervious to the will of The People, as their antics on health care prove. As anyone who has studied high school civics should know, that’s the intended result of this blight on democracy.

Nancy Pelosi will either assert the needed will to force the President and Senate to enact an abridged Democratic agenda or not. Her year could be the decisive factor in forcing Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats to keep faith with their supporters. She must be encouraged and supported along with the house progressives or even her best efforts will be assured of failure. Much of that will depend on the left pressuring the progressives and genuine moderates to overcome lock step Republican-blue dog resistance. I don’t see any chance of this happening without liberals and the left intelligently applying force to House members.

The present day, Republican extremists ruling the Supreme Court are on the verge of putting the knife in the back of electoral democracy. Barring the death or retirement of one of the five, they will succeed. The far right majority will try to finish what the Bush II regime and the Rehnquist court started, cementing the corporate-Republican alliance into place.

The media will continue to be the force that defeats progress and destroys democracy. The exceptions to this may exist but will be suppressed if they show signs of overturning the established order. The spectacle of the Bush II regime combined with the generally tacit belief in democracy and justice will not overcome their inherent greed and block think.

The big question in the States is how bad will it be allowed to get. Will we all be living in a perpetual Mississippi or Arkansas or Louisiana someday? Because with the line of lies the media have sold us, that is the direction we are headed in. Look where California is headed if you don’t see this as being possible. California!

And The People, the real foundation, the trunk and roots of the United States, the actual country? That’s the big question. Will we ever have had enough to give up the superstition that our present system serves us and is the best one we could have? Will we face that those of us who are devoted to the common good must fight against the other side harder and more insistently? Will we grow up even in the face of mounting need to do so?

Will we face that giving up is not an option with which we can live for very long?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Worn Path

Eudora Welty wrote the best Christmas story I know, A Worn Path .

Welty's ability to imagine the mind and world of the central character makes the story a masterpiece of empathetic understanding. The apparently simple story is like a complete exposition of everything that Chrismas is supposed to be about.

Looking for it online, I found a movie that her publisher made of it, which is remarkably faithful to the original and which presents a really great performance by Cora Lee Day as Phoenix.

A Worn Path

Part 1

Part 2

Interview with Eudora Welty on the story.

Put Jesus Back into Christianity and FOX Will Declare War [Anthony McCarthy]

If Christians are people who try to apply the teachings of Jesus to life, and the word has no meaning if this isn’t the case, they are one of the smallest religious groups in the world. Jesus somewhat cryptically said many are called but few are chosen. I’ve never quite understood what that means but it’s certain, very, very few choose to follow his radical version of the Jewish justice tradition despite their proclamation of his divinity, his status as the one savior of the world whose words are the commandments of God. Attempts, such as St. Francis’, to literally follow these teachings, are inevitably deemed to be too impractical before they are actively and, often, violently suppressed.

While there are a number of points that could be discussed, about the only instance in the gospels of Jesus consigning an individual to hell is the rich man at whose door the destitute Lazarus died in abject misery. Nothing which is commonly identified today as a sin or fault in the rich man is mentioned in the parable. Jesus only felt it necessary to say that he was rich, well clothed, well fed and well housed while a poor person lingered on his doorstep. Yet he is about the only individual Jesus condemned to unquenchable fire, refusing even the request that he be allowed to warn his brothers that the same was waiting for them. This is shocking when you consider the role of “christianity” as one long condemnation of the majority of humanity to hell for things never mentioned by Jesus. Why is this one sin, wallowing in luxury in the midst of poverty, not the cause of active concern among the bible toting, bible thumping and, especially these days, gay hating “christians”? Don’t they care to save the souls of these sinners?

In today’s “christianity” wealth is taken as proof of God’s favor. Those who have enjoyed the greatest success while posing as ministers of Jesus’ message have most typically laid aside his explicit instructions to preachers of his message. They are to not take money with them, to have the most minimal of clothing and to depend on the charity of those they are preaching to for food. They are to eat what is set before them, heal those who need healing and to go on their way. If someone rejects them they are merely to leave. And they are, apparently to go on foot, not in a Mercedes or Jet bought for their use by “the faithful”. Obviously Prada and designer clothes aren’t to be worn. The most basic and clear instructions about their chosen career from the Son of God are found to be inconvenient and are given the status of minor rules to be disregarded.

In the most successful changing of the subject in history, they replace the clearest messages in Jesus’ teachings, justice, remembering the poor, treating them as you would treat yourself, with tabloid style obsession with other peoples’ sex lives, especially, in what WILL NOT be news here, WOMEN. Not that it keeps many of them from enjoying quite exotic sex, themselves. Jesus was almost silent on the subject of sex except to point out to the bible thumpers of his day that prostitutes and tax collectors* would enter into the Kingdom of God before they would. In his most well known treatment of the subject, he pardoned a WOMAN caught in the act of adultery and refused to judge or participate in the prescribed penalty for adultery. Another teaching that doesn’t seem to have taken hold.

Those most constant servants of imperial power, the media, in the past forty years have defined “religion” as being the fundamentalists because of their political utility to the imperial order which the media serves. These religious hypocrites have covered up the justice teachings of Jesus by appealing to the worst in human character, racial, ethnic, gender and religious hatred and subjugation, selfishness and stinginess, cowardly hatred of the poor and powerless. And there is a reaction to this disgusting spectacle.

For the most part liberal religion of all kinds is ignored and so not discussed and so doesn’t exist. Those who the corporate media wish to kill, they ignore.

This maintainable of and service to numerous imperial orders and elites by "christians" and, especially, organized "christianity" is about the clearest contradiction between what is done in the name of Jesus and what the entire gospel, the only record of his teachings and life say. It alone impeaches the large majority of pretended "christianity".

It’s striking how many active in the current anti-religious agitation are the product of fundamentalist “christianity” and, to a lesser extent, it’s lesser known cousin, integralist Catholicism. They identify “xians” as the target of their anger but their particular indictments are aimed at fundamentalists who have entirely rejected the core teachings of Jesus. Those who bring the person of Jesus into disrepute are those who invoke his name as an excuse for practicing evil. There are none better at generating hostility to Jesus than conservative “christians”, those who are pretended to be the most fervent in their belief but whose every action belies that they don’t really believe in Jesus at all. The most potent weapons of anti-Christian propaganda are the hypocrisies of those who proclaim Jesus loudest while refusing to follow him.

So, what am I proposing? One of the greatest needs in the Christian world today is for those who really, truly, believe in the teachings of Jesus to do as he instructed, to act them out and to proclaim them. And they have to point out the hypocrisy of those who pretend to Christianity while practicing a modern version of Roman imperialism here in the United States. I challenge those who really believe in Jesus to insist on justice, equality, the common distribution of the things people need in order to live. And justice is first and last a matter of economic justice for everyone including the alien and even your enemy. Christianity may require many beliefs in things unseen and taken on faith but one thing is as clear as can be, Christianity cannot exist in someone who doesn’t act as if they believed its central message, economic justice for real people in the physical world. That justice isn’t an extra to be forgotten while setting up a manger scene on public property in an effort to rub the noses of unbelievers in the political power of “christianty”. Where there is no justice there is no Christianity. In the United States during this period of conservative ascendence, it has become almost extinct.

The increasingly tiresome fashion of mocking Jesus on the left is just proof of how ignorant people are of what he advocated in favor of the cartoon PR that is the real gospel followed by what is called "Christianity". It's made of various apparitions, vulgar sentimentalization and pious hypocrisies. It suits the ideological purposes of the self-purported champions of reason and science to ignore the more salient hypocrisies, it's fair to assume, because they're not really much more interested in the justice tradition that is as inconvenient to their purpose as it is to the imperialist triumphalists. But there isn't any reason for anyone interested in the truth and justice to go along with it. I believe that, even on a practical level, they are throwing away one of the most potentially powerful forces to actually change things, a belief that justice is a moral requirement because it is divinely ordered. But that would be far, far harder to do if "christians" didn't provide the myriad of hypocrisies, oppressions, murders, and, most destructive of all, indifferent disregard. If Christians lived up to the words of Jesus, their enemies would find it far harder to get any traction.

Expanded from a post from December 22, 2007 when I was still posting under a pseudonym.

* Yes, tax collectors, a group even more reviled than prostitutes, for whom many of the most vocal “christians” have a most definite use. The “christians” don’t seem to believe Jesus on that point either.

For those itching for the typical battle in the religious wars, you might want to read this provocative- - though for religious liberals not especially provocative- essay Way Beyond Atheism: God Does Not (Not) Exist.
The Great Toy Robbery

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Money and timing (by Suzie)

I’m a Dallas native who thinks Oswald was the lone gunman. So, you know I’m not big on conspiracies. I cringe when friends agree the sex-crime case against Julian Assange matters, adding: “But the timing is very suspicious.”

What I find curious is Assange’s timing. Imagine I say the following sotto voce. What if he seized on the allegations as a way to make himself look embattled and indispensible? Yes, there are conservatives who want him dead. Yes, the U.S. is investigating him. But there would be little action if not for the red notice, Interpol, jail, bail, mansion-arrest, etc., which has kept the story focused on him, not his organization or the cables themselves. He has become the champion of freedom, the international man of mystery, the rock star caught in the honeytrap. Supporters picket, write articles on his behalf, and donate to WikiLeaks, his defense fund and his bail. He is the man of the hour, and some say the year.

Despite criticism of the rich and powerful, Assange has been searching for big donors from the beginning. Despite criticism of the mainstream media, he has tried to place stories with large, respectable newspapers. Some WikiLeakers disliked this approach, but Assange knew a big splash would attract donors and other supporters. (John Young of Cryptome makes for excellent reading.)

The Wau Holland Foundation in Germany collects many of the donations and pays many of the costs of WikiLeaks, and it has just reported the best year ever for donations, although they have tapered off in recent months, according to today's Wall Street Journal. Costs also have risen.
... a big factor in the leap is a recent decision to begin paying salaries to staff. The primary beneficiary of that decision—which has been hotly debated within WikiLeaks—is Mr. Assange ...
He has received 66,000 euros (about $87,000) so far this year. (Not all invoices are in.) WikiLeaks has received $1.3 million in donations passed through the foundation.

A foundation spokesman says the donations have not gone toward legal expenses related to the Swedish case. I wonder how this is kept separate. Assange used WikiLeaks’s Facebook account and Twitter to smear the women, ensuring that people would view the case politically and think that his fate was inextricably linked to the fate of WikiLeaks. Lawyers for WikiLeaks often discuss the Swedish case, too. Do the lawyers have a ledger where they write "half-hour suggesting U.S. controls Swedish legal system" and "half-hour discussing the Espionage Act"?

Also today, the Times of London quoted "Peter Sunde, co-founder of the file-sharing website Pirate Bay" whose "micropayments website,, is an important source of funding for WikiLeaks."
I think it’s very important that Julian Assange comes to Sweden and has his trial in Sweden to show if he’s guilty or innocent. At the moment he’s dragging WikiLeaks down with him.
Sunde warned that, if Assange gets extradited instead, Anonymous will take out their anger on British government sites.
They are a very powerful force. Since there are very few people who can stop them, they can do basically whatever they want.
WikiLeaks had internal conflict before the accusations in August, and the accusations didn't help. Also that month, staff learned that Assange had cut a secret deal to release U.S. military documents on Iraq to newspapers in October, and some thought the release would be too early to properly redact the names of Iraqis who worked with the U.S. Key players in WikiLeaks began to resign. From the NYT:
After the Sweden scandal, strains within WikiLeaks reached a breaking point, with some of Mr. Assange’s closest collaborators publicly defecting. The New York Times spoke with dozens of people who have worked with and supported him in Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the United States. What emerged was a picture of the founder of WikiLeaks as its prime innovator and charismatic force but as someone whose growing celebrity has been matched by an increasingly dictatorial, eccentric and capricious style.
The newspaper obtained a transcript of an encrypted chat in September, in which Assange called colleagues "a confederacy of fools.” Meanwhile, Swedish police were interviewing people connected with the sex-crime case.

Assange left Sweden in September, with the understanding that he would return in October to be interviewed further. In October, he released the Iraq documents as promised, but he failed to return to Sweden. It issued an arrest warrant for him in November, and 10 days later he dumped the diplomatic cables. He turned himself in to British authorities on Dec. 7.

Has the Swedish case reduced support, or has he used it to his advantage? Perhaps we'll get more answers in the new year.
P.S. In the Times quotes, Assange mentions "my children." I've only seen his son Daniel discussed before.

Dying On The Job. Anti-Feminism And Feminism

The Men's Rights Activists of a certain stripe argue that women's lower average earnings are a trade-off for men's higher risk of occupational injury. That is my interpretation of the many arguments I've read which range from foaming-at-the-mouth rants to subtle references to the higher death rates at typically male occupations when anything at all is said about women's lower earnings.

The argument is difficult to analyze because those who bring it up don't seem to want a change at all. They don't want a more feminist world where women might be a greater percentage in the dangerous jobs and thus fewer men would die in them. They don't want to make those jobs safer, either.

Instead, they want male supremacy, higher accident deaths for male loggers and fishermen to continue, and for women to shut up about their lower average earnings.

Which is pretty weird. The other weird thing is that if we turned all those dangerous occupations into a fifty-fifty gender balance, women would still earn less than men. It's not the dangerous male jobs which explain the gender gap in earnings, for the most part.

After all that, let's look at those jobs. The statistics I found refer to dying on the job and obviously don't cover all types of injuries or job-related illnesses, and the list indeed is very male. The highest death risk belongs to fishers, loggers, aircraft pilots and engineers:

Fishers and related fishing workers" died from workplace injuries at the rate of 200 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in 2009, according to the B.L.S., 60 times greater than the rate of 3.3 per 100,000 for the overall American work force. For loggers, the fatality rate was 61.8 per 100,000 and for aircraft pilots and flight engineers, 57.1 per 100,000.
Keep those numbers in mind. The rest of the ten most dangerous occupations are shown in the following table:

Women are not commmon as workers in those dangerous industries:

Maybe it's because men work in more hazardous jobs or maybe it's because they're daredevils or just plain stupid risk-takers, but the fatality rate from workplace injuries is more than nine times higher for men than for women: 5.5 per 100,000 for men, compared with 0.6 per 100,000 for women. The B.L.S. reported that 4,021 men died from workplace injuries in 2009, compared with 319 women.

I think those comments about being "daredevils" or "stupid risk-takers" are pretty misplaced, especially in the context of death.

Now for the feminist analysis: What is the most dangerous traditionally female job category?

Prostitution, right*? The problem with prostitution is that it's not regarded a legal occupation in most places and therefore we don't get statistics on it. But I have recently read much on violence and sex workers, including the recent find in New York of several buried bodies, many of which belong to prostitutes and suggest a serial murderer in the area.

One study on prostitutes' death rates between 1967 and 1999 offers some information:

To our knowledge, no population of women studied previously has had a crude mortality rate, standardized mortality ratio, or percentage of deaths due to murder even approximating those observed in our cohort. The workplace homicide rate for prostitutes (204 per 100,000) is many times higher than that for women and men in the standard occupations that had the highest workplace homicide rates in the United States during the 1980s (4 per 100,000 for female liquor store workers and 29 per 100,000 for male taxicab drivers) (29).

The high homicide and overall mortality rates observed in our cohort probably reflect circumstances for nearly all prostitutes in the United States (where prostitution is illegal, except for a few rural Nevada counties where brothels are permitted (34)) and many other countries. Although these Colorado Springs prostitutes appeared to be representative of all US prostitutes in terms of prevalence and number of sexual partners (9, 12) and although they worked as prostitutes (and died) in many parts of the country, prostitutes elsewhere might have different mortality rates and profiles.

Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States. Research identifying individual and contextual factors that make prostitutes vulnerable to murder and drug overdose can inform the development of interventions for reducing harm (32, 37, 48, 49).
Bolds are mine.

It's difficult to know what that table of the most dangerous occupations would look like if prostitution was counted, but it would certainly look different. Note the murder rate of 204 per 100,000. If it's an annual rate, the prostitutes would lead the statistics of most dangerous jobs.
*From a traditional angle, being a homemaker would also not be regarded as a job. It, too, has an occupational risk. Note that the earnings of prostitutes are not included in the earnings comparisons, either. The whole industry operates outside statistics.

Added later: From a ten-minute search, I found the following recent news about sex workers and murder

Caught in the cyber war (by Suzie)

Last week, I became a casualty in the cyber war over Julian Assange. My injury wasn’t too bad. I had to spend time and money to upgrade my computer and change my passwords. But what about someone with fewer resources?

Two others tell their stories here and here. For me, it started with messages from Gawker, LinkedIn and Amazon that I needed to change my passwords. The one from Gawker confused me – I’ve never commented there. I forgot that io9 was part of Gawker Media. “Gnosis” claimed credit for the attack; the Guardian blames Anonymous:
They were described as a leaderless, anarchic group of "hacktivists" who briefly brought down MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after those companies cut off financial services to WikiLeaks.
But inside Anonymous, the Guardian has found that the organisation is more hierarchical – with a hidden cabal of around a dozen highly skilled hackers co-ordinating attacks across the web.
The secretive group that directs the Anonymous network was also behind the assault on the Gawker websites in the US at the weekend, according to documents seen by the Guardian. That led to email addresses and passwords of more than 1.3 million Gawker users being made public, and spawned a spam attack on Twitter that is now being investigated by the FBI.
I don't know if any of the anonymous people who protest in person are Anonymous, but I do have a tip: When someone is accused of rape, don’t take the Spartacus route. For some of us, it's not comforting to see groups of men wearing masks and holding signs saying, “I Am Assange.”

Descriptions of Anonymous often mention its attack on Scientology. Wikipedia mentions many other actions, but not the one on feminist bloggers. I found that in the Anonymous-related Encyclopedia Dramatica, which recently changed. I don’t want to go back; I fear the Land of Trolls.

The term “troll” gets used too loosely. Some people are sincerely ignorant or infuriating, i.e., they believe what they’re saying. Wired gives a better definition, in connection with Anonymous:
To troll is to post deliberately incendiary content to a discussion forum or other online community—say, kitten-torture fantasies on a message board for cat lovers—for no other reason than to stir up chaos and outrage. Trolling is (for the troll, at least) a source of amusement. But for Anonymous it has long been more like a way of life. Study the pages of the Encyclopedia Dramatica wiki, where the vast parallel universe of Anonymous in-jokes, catchphrases, and obsessions is lovingly annotated, and you will discover an elaborate trolling culture: Flamingly racist and misogynist content lurks throughout, all of it calculated to offend, along with links to eye-gougingly horrific images of mutilation, sexual perversity, and, yes, kittens in blenders. Here, too, are chronicled the many troll invasions, or "raids," that Anonymous has inflicted on unsuspecting Web communities—like the Epilepsy Foundation's online forums, which were attacked with flashing, seizure-inducing animations.
For more information on Anonymous attacks on feminists, see Bitch or Feministe. In a previous post on Assange (12/12), I mentioned that we have a ton of information in the digital age, but we often lack ways to make sense of it. In this case, if someone new to the subject was curious about Anonymous and feminism, searching “anonymous” and “feminism” would hardly help. I found the information easily only because I subscribed to Bitch at the time.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the media to mention the attacks on feminists when they discuss the hackers who have published the names, addresses, phone numbers, photos, etc., of the Swedish women who complained about Assange, and who temporarily shut down the sites of the women’s lawyer and the Swedish Prosecution Authority? Like the attacks on MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Amazon, people who have nothing to do with this fight get inconvenienced, possibly even hurt.

The new WikiLeaks spokesman said: "We neither condemn nor applaud these attacks.” But Assange had poured fuel on the fire, calling Visa, MasterCard and PayPal "instruments of U.S. foreign policy." What he didn't mention was that PayPal had temporarily suspended donations to WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2008, at least once for failing to comply with European laws on money laundering.

In the "irony of the year," he and his lawyers are calling for an investigation of whoever leaked the documents in the sex case to the Guardian. Supporters also have accused the Guardian, the recipient of leaked cables, for betraying Assange by posting the Swedish police documents. Journalists are supposed to protect confidential sources from disclosure. But Assange isn't a confidential source, nor does the Guardian have any responsibility to protect him from allegations of rape.

Jeremy Sapienza at AntiWar would make me vomit if I didn't have Zofran in the house. He writes:
Assange is not now, in any way, hoist by his own petard ... WikiLeaks exists to expose the misdeeds of those in power, the nearly invincible elites.
As a counterpoint, read Jaron Lanier's "The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy," which is the best analysis that I've seen so far on WikiLeaks.
I actually take seriously the idea that the Internet can make non-traditional techie actors powerful. Therefore, I am less sympathetic to hackers when they use their newfound power arrogantly and non-constructively. ... How can you tell when you are the underdog versus when you are powerful? When you get that perception wrong, you can behave quite badly quite easily.
People who say they hate controls on the Internet, or on the release of information, may mean they don’t want any restrictions on themselves. But they may want restrictions on others, or they may use their skills to silence others. From Birgitta Jonsdottir, the member of the Iceland parliament who left WikiLeaks:
Julian is incredibly like-able, incredibly enjoyable to be with – if you are agreeing with him. If you criticise him, he is very abusive. He has a very high IQ but very low EQ [emotional intelligence].
Gawker released emails he allegedly wrote to a 19-year-old woman when he was 33. If true, and no one has denied them, he got her phone number, car make and license plate number, creeping her out. He pursued her, even when she had the subject line “don’t call me.” He ended up telling her that she was cold and self-absorbed.

Some may think I'm gossiping, but his attitude toward and treatment of women matter in the running of WikiLeaks, just as it does for any boss. In his old OKCupid dating profile, he says he's working on a male-dominated project. Does WikiLeaks need more women, not just to care for Assange, but to voice their perspectives? Maybe the Swedish women were exceptions, but if he regularly has sex with supporters and colleagues, do they wonder if he had any interest in their ideas? Do other women wonder if that's what they need to do to get his attention? Do men wonder if a woman is allowed more access because she's sleeping with him, or do they assume that's how other women have gained access? These are the questions that arise when a boss has sex with underlings. Here's an email on Cryptome from Assange in 2006:
It seems like everyone I meet plans to follow the young Che Guavara, and take off on their motorbike and adventure through the poverty and pleasurs of South and Central American, now that seduction of random latinos has been politically sanctified -- and who can blame them?
Last year I rode my motorcycle from Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) to Hanoi, up the highway that borders the South China Sea.
More from the OKCupid profile:
I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil. Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane. OK. Not only women!

Although I am pretty intellectually and physically pugnacious I am very protective of women and children.
Perhaps that's a reference to the decade he spent fighting the mother of his son for full custody. He has described her as "emotionally disturbed," and her subsequent boyfriend as abusive. I've never seen her side anywhere, but then again, she left while he was hacking into corporate and government sites, including the Pentagon. If I were her, I wouldn't want a public fight with him.

The former couple reached a private agreement, letting the mother have continued responsibility for raising their son. Although supportive, Daniel Assange, 20, hasn't "been in contact with his father for a number of years." So, what was the point of the custody fight? Writing about his father in general, Daniel tweeted in 2006: "I think he just has a tendency to follow the path of highest resistance, simply for the sake of defiance."

A custody agreement for Daniel was reached when he was about the same age as Julian when Assange's parents divorced. Julian Assange has described his mother's next partner as “a manipulative and violent psychopath.” She had a son by him, and there was a custody fight. So, she took her two boys on the run for at least five years.

Assange likes a fight? OK, but don't pretend you're protecting me and others.
P.S. Thanks to Sarah Posner for quoting me in "How Julian Assange Is Like A Televangelist."