Saturday, March 20, 2010

How The Tea People Demonstrate

With violent imagery. These signs turned up today in Washington D.C. in a protest against health care reform:

Have a look at some of the other signs and then ask yourself if the opposition truly isn't about race or at least the desire to keep power in the hands it traditionally has belonged to.

And then there was this:

A staffer for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told reporters that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-M.D.) had been spit on by a protestor. Rep. John Lewis (D-G.A.), a hero of the civil rights movement, was called a 'ni--er.' And Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was called a "faggot," as protestors shouted at him with deliberately lisp-y screams. Frank, approached in the halls after the president's speech, shrugged off the incident.

Women Are The Only Ones Who Can Tell Us What The Stupaks Would Really Do by Anthony McCarthy

All of the “Greatest Generation” hype will soon, if it hasn’t already, reached the point of going over the top. Talking about it with my mother, who is a veteran of World War II, she said that she thought it was too much. She said she didn’t want to be seen only as the three and a half years of her life that were taken up with that service, proud though she is of it. She noted that she lived almost ninety other years and she thought there was a lot about those years that was important.

Other than the big names that have made it a feature of their show business careers, you can understand how the children of those people are trying to grasp onto parts of our parents who are rapidly dying off. To look at someone in their late 80s and 90s is to realize that what are called the implications of mortality are far more than merely implied. They are it.

The reason to study the past, to gather information from other peoples’ experience is to find ideas useful in shaping the future. Without that part of it, history and memoir are mere hobbies on the level of curio collecting.

There is a generation that is passing whose information is desperately needed and which couldn’t be more essential to planning for our future. The accurate memories of women who had illegal abortions in the period before it was legalized need to be more widely known. Abortion was never abolished in the United States, not by any means. It was common and available, though dangerous in most cases and ineffective in others. I remember more than one young women who were beaten by boyfriends hoping to induce a miscarriage. Ending pregnancies was a profession, like all illegal professions the qualifications of those practicing the profession went from the homicidally negligent and incompetent to qualified doctors practicing in hygienic conditions. There were a few doctors who risked professional ruin and prosecution to provide abortions. Ability to pay and connections to elite abortion providers was the deciding factor in which kind of abortion you had access to. Desperation to end a pregnancy had the effect of condensing the defects of the medical system into one area where it could be seen more easily.

As I hear the Stupak-Conference of Bishops side on abortion, that glaring lie is the one that needs to be hollered out until everyone has to deal with it. They aren’t trying to end abortion, they are trying to revive the abortion practices of the 1950s. Those are what will come back, with women dead, women injured, a flourishing trade in illegal abortion including the worst of the butchers of the past, women and ethical abortion providers always fearful of arrest. And there will be arrests and prosecutions. There will be prosecutors who vie with each other to prove themselves in this area, especially if the prohibitionists show their political power.

So, it is couldn’t be more important that we all hear the experience of women who had illegal abortions and those who provided them during the period when it was legal nowhere in the United States before that testimony is lost. The lies of the other side are eternal, they aren’t founded in experience, they aren’t written in pain and blood. If our side is going to be heard, it is that record that has to be taken down and forced under the noses of the media. If they’re going to insist on the she said-he said coverage of this issue, let’s force them to face the world that the other side is trying with all their might to recreate. In a sobering number of cases, the enemies of choice in abortion are also working to restrict contraceptive availability. Just as in the 1950s, the anti-abortion side seem to want to produce more of them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Narcotics & craziness (by Suzie)

I’ve appreciated a good narcotic since I had minor surgery as a teenager. I was given Demerol. By then, however, I also had experienced a Demerol-addled, gun-waving neighbor. I joined his family for a trip through the West in an Econoline van fitted with old bus seats. In San Francisco, he threatened to shoot anyone who uttered a word. We kept quiet even when he took a sharp turn, one seat upended and three of us fell in a heap. Imagine seeing SF for the first time – in silence.

Decades later, after I was diagnosed with sarcoma, some friends asked if I could get medical marijuana. My standard reply: “I can get better.”

My jokes about narcotics troubled other friends. Even a casual mention of Vicodin would elicit concerned-parent faces and comments about the dangers of drugs. When I’m in pain, the last thing I want is a lecture as if I’d been held captive in a religious cult and never heard that narcotics could be addictive.

So many people are so worried about drug abuse that they forget the many blessings of narcotics. Can’t we hold both thoughts in our heads? Must we assume that everyone is, or will become, addicted?

Until I had my bladder removed last month, I was having recurrent bladder infections resistant to antibiotics. Vicodin helped me through. During my six-hour surgery, I was glad that I didn’t have to bite on a bullet or take a shot of whiskey.

Afterward, my Sufentanyl got yanked because I was itching like crazy. I then got Dilaudid. Forget the itching; I was just crazy. Dreams and reality mixed. Never again will I tell someone to relax into the drug, just float, let it take away the pain, etc. From Dilaudid, I got switched to Toradol, Ultram and finally Vicodin, my old friend.

I wrote this post drug-free.
More thoughts from the hospital: I had a peripheral line in my right wrist, an IV in my left hand, a long bruise on my left wrist where the arterial line had been; a hydra-like, triple-lumen central line dangling from my chest; a nasal-gastric tube with dark stuff that I thought was food going into my belly; a JP drain, like a little football, tethered to my abdomen; and a pouch glued to my abdomen, with two stents emerging from my stoma like sticky stamen, and a tube connected to a catheter bag. I felt like a marionette.
I like to sleep on my side. Try that when you’ve got an entourage of tubes that must move when you move. Because I was too weak, staff and friends used sheets and pillows to roll me over on my side. I felt like a beached whale.
Even if your hospital is terrific, schedule people to stay with you, at least until you can get up on your own. Even if you have caring family members, rotate them to reduce burn out. You may want a drink of water, or your TV remote may fall. You can’t call the staff all the time, and if you do, don’t expect them to come running unless you say you're bleeding from one of your lines, as happened to me.
Your caregivers can keep a diary, marking the date and time when stuff occurs. If you’re in a drug haze, a diary can help you make sense later. On my worst night, I got new medication to reduce the madness, and the nurse told me to give it 30 minutes to work. A friend had to keep reassuring me because time had stood still. Later, when I read the notes, I understood what happened.
For those tempted to argue with patients, remember: Who is crazier, the crazy person or the person arguing with the crazy person?
A patient loses so much control in the hospital. Let her make what decisions she can; don’t call her a control freak.
Reading get-well cards signed by a lot of people reminds me of the signatures in a school yearbook. Among all the get-well-soons, I expected to see “Have a great summer!” (But, hey, keep the cards and gifts coming!)
At home, I have a grabber so that I don’t have to bend down. I channel a friend from the cancer center who died a few years ago. His parents had had an ice-cream store on the boardwalk of Ocean City, Md., and he became an expert at the machines that lower a claw into a bed of prizes. What is my prize now? Getting dirty clothes off the floor.
While recuperating-through-working, I came across this quote from SARC, an unimpeachable source for sarcoma information: "You can’t get sarcoma from eating the wrong foods, making love, or from insufficient exercise." Let the party begin!

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Wildlife biologist David Saugey took this photo of Rafinesque's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii), which he describes as a rare species found primarily in the Southeast U.S.

A song of contentment (by Suzie)

For me, this song captures contentment, the times when I feel like I have everything I need. I chose a video that captures Melissa Ferrick's excitement in concert. I saw her once but could barely move; the place was so packed with young women. You can find her tour schedule on her official site.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oh Dear. Foot-In-The-Mouth Stupak

When sixty leaders representing 59,000 Catholic nuns came out in support of the Senate health care legislation, what did our Bart do?

He put his masculine shoe straight into his mouth:

Congressman Bart Stupak, D-Mich, responded sharply to White House officials touting a letter representing 59,000nuns that was sent to lawmakers urging them to pass the health care bill.

The conservative Democrat dismissed the action by the White House saying, "When I'm drafting right to life language, I don't call up the nuns." He says he instead confers with other groups including "leading bishops, Focus on the Family, and The National Right to Life Committee."

Bolding by everyone who reads that paragraph and then writes about it, pretty much.

Care to think of the differences between nuns and those other organizations? Well, nuns are wimminz, after all, though disguised. Those other organizations are guy groups. They are also not exactly in the Democratic Party. The Focus on the Family, for instance, has its rifle focus on independent women and egalitarian families and so on.

I found that statement shocking, because I didn't think he would come out in the open about his deep distrust and dislike of women in general. But he did do exactly that.

Then he complained about the bad treatment he has received. Nobody should call his house or harass his family. That is wrong and disgusting.

But Jodi points out that life under such harassment is the norm for some:

The Hill reports that "Leading a revolt against President Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation over abortion has been a “living hell” for Rep. Bart Stupak."

The telephone lines in his Washington and district offices have been “jammed” and he’s gotten more than 1,500 faxes and countless e-mails — most of which he says don’t come from his constituents.

The fight has taken a toll on his wife, who has disconnected the phone in their home to avoid harassment.

“All the phones are unplugged at our house — tired of the obscene calls and threats. She won’t watch TV,” Stupak said during an hourlong interview with The Hill in his Rayburn office. “People saying they’re going to spit on you and all this. That’s just not fun.”

Welcome, Mr. Stupak, to the daily life of reproductive health providers, who are subject to such harassment every day courtesy of your friends at Focus on the Family, National Right to Life, and the USCCB.

Do read Jodi's whole post. It's excellent.

Who Wears The Dress, Hmh?

I came across this story about the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church:

With the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church spreading, a leading religious scholar said Wednesday that a greater female presence in the church hierarchy would have helped prevent the crisis from worsening.

You might guess what I thought at this point! But luckily I was wrong:

"It is clear that, statistically, women abuse much less than men. And in terms of reporting, are much more likely to (report abuse)," Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

"It would make a big difference if my Catholic women students at the seminary were in positions of power right now. This would not be handled this way at all," she said.

The piece describes a debate between two Roman Catholic* women about the desirability of women in the priesthood. That is a false setup, given that women have no say in the matter. It's a cowardly approach, really.

But sort of funny, because the two women happen to be named Smith and Jones. Like imaginary characters, you know. In any case, Jones is for women as priests, Smith is against, and expresses her opposition firmly:

Jones told Amanpour: "The fact that we insist on celibacy in the Catholic Church and that women are excluded, that double combination ... shows us a church that lives in a bubble."

She also strongly rejected the idea that priests have to be men.

"The majority of Catholics in this country (the United States) agree it is an archaic argument and it's one that is bound to oppress."

Smith was unimpressed. "Women can be Christ-like as well as any man, but we wouldn't choose a woman to play the role of Hamlet, right?"

Don't you love that Hamlet-comparison? Of course Smith bases it on the assumption that to be a priest one must be a man.

The other bit I liked a lot is where she argues that women already are included in the church hierarchy:

She added that women play a big role in the structure of the Catholic Church, holding 23 percent of the top "power positions" in the United States, 48 percent of the administrative positions and 80 percent of all paid positions.

Let's calculate a bit here. If women hold 23 percent of top positions in the U.S. church, what percentage do men hold? Could it be 77 percent? Even though men hold only 20 percent of all paid positions in the church (given that women hold 80 percent of those)?

This doesn't sound like women's empowerment to me. It sounds as if women do most of the work but very little of the leading.
This post is snarky for a very good reason (and started a lot snarkier). We have a church which routinely refuses to let women have power in the hierarchy, refuses to admit women into the priesthood, yet constantly tries to limit the reproductive choice of not only Roman Catholic women but all women.

And when do we hear any murmurs at all about possibly, just possibly, giving women a bit more power in the church hierarchy? When the church has made a total mess of something and needs someone to save its bacon. Women are of value only as instruments for something else. Like toasters.
*Thanks to Lynn in the comments for pointing out that Serene Jones is not Catholic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


This video is pretty astonishing to watch on several levels.

Ohmygod! Doctors Will Quit Under Obamacare!

This is what people who watch Fox News are told. Moreover, the study finding this appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine! Given that it's perhaps the most prestigious medical journal in the country, the findings must be true.

And the findings are frightening: Almost half of all physicians surveyed stated that they would either retire early or quit practicing medicine if a public option was implemented in the health care reform proposal. Not having a public option would cut those losses to just one-third of all physicians.

The end of the world is nigh! We must cancel all changes immediately!

Except that the study was NOT published by the New England Journal of Medicine, but by The Medicus Firm, a national physician search firm. That doesn't mean the study isn't a good one, of course.

To find out more about it I went to the Medicus site. I wanted to see the questions the study used, because it's well known that how one frames the questions will affect the answers. Just think of something in this vein:

"Would you quit practicing medicine if hordes of desperate patients suddenly crashed your office and demanded extensive treatments from you without any extra pay?"

Now that would be a very biased question. It's only presented as an example which demonstrates why having a look at the questions used in any study is important.

But I couldn't find the questionnaire, though I was invited to contact them for full results. Would those include the questions? I guess the only way to find out is to try them.

Did the people at Fox News do that? Do they know what the survey actually asked? These kinds of questions are boring but pretty important.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'm not going to discuss its history or anything political this time around (though I have done so in the past years). Instead, I'm wondering if coloring my teeth green would be suitable for tonight's festivities. And how to do it? I was thinking of a green mouth guard.

Do you wear green today?

CNN Needs Erickson To Have Diverse Voices

That's what CNN's Ed Henry said in a recent tweet:

For those Tweeting CNN shouldn't have hired @ewerickson as a contributor, seriously do you think a network should NOT have diverse voices

Let's recap some of the things this particular voice offers us in diversity:

And what about this bit from Erick's blog post in 2008 (thanks to Hart Williams in my comments for the link):

As the Clintons and their supporters continue their destruction of the Democratic Party, we see the latest salvo fired from the thighs of ugly nags.

From the nether regions that see no men, New York's National Association of Gals is out bashing Teddy Kennedy for endorsing Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton.

Bolds are mine. He is also needed to add diverse comments about former Supreme Court Justices as goat-f***ers.

Sigh. It's not the diversity of Erickson's voice that I protest here. It's the fact that he is an out-of-the-closet woman-hater and that detail makes no difference to the powers-that-be at CNN.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Race-And-Gender Wealth Gap

You may have seen references to a study which found the average net worth of African-American single women to be about five bucks. That net worth refers to wealth, not income, and it is found by calculating the value of all assets a person has and then by deducting the value of all the debt the person has.

The study is available here (a pdf), and well worth reading through.* What you will find is a wealth gap between men and women in all racial/ethnic groups until some time after age fifty when the gap narrows or disappears or even reverses. I suspect the change around the age fifty has to do with inheriting wealth from one's own parents.

But this change can only happen if the person's own parents had accumulated wealth. That was much easier for whites than for African-Americans, largely due to overt racial discrimination in the past. That is one reason for the much greater race gap than gender gap.

The race gap in wealth is not all that is affecting African-American single women. If it was, African-American single men should have the same average wealth levels. But they have higher wealth levels. Thus, African-American women are hit twice.
*One caveat: I'm not sure about the sample sizes for, say, African-American single women. If they are small the results should be viewed as preliminary and the study as a pilot project.

Please Welcome Erick Erickson!

CNN has hired another wingnut to comment on politics: Erick Erickson. Here's what the CNN blog says:

Under Erickson's leadership, has become the preeminent right of center community online. Prior to leading, Erickson practiced law for six years and managed a number of political campaigns, and he currently serves as a member of the Macon, Georgia, city council. He studied political science and history and earned a bachelor's degree at Mercer University in Macon. Erickson also earned his law degree from Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law.

"Erick's a perfect fit for John King, USA, because not only is he an agenda-setter whose words are closely watched in Washington, but as a person who still lives in small-town America, Erick is in touch with the very people John hopes to reach," said Sam Feist, CNN political director and vice president of Washington-based programming. "With Erick's exceptional knowledge of politics, as well as his role as a conservative opinion leader, he will add an important voice to CNN's ideologically diverse group of political contributors."

I'm rolling on the floor laughing and my tummy hurts. This is so utterly deliciously funny. Oh dear.

"He will add an important voice." Bwahaha. Do you think he will use that voice to call a retired Supreme Court Justice a goat-f***ing child molester? Or might he call for the audience to rise up (over a dish-washing detergent) and to beat some politicians to a bloody pulp?

Those are the kinds of things our Erick has said in public. He is the gift that keeps on giving. But I'm not sure why Steve Benen overlooked his utterances on feminists. I have to fix that problem so that you all know what CNN in turn overlooked when deciding on this "important voice (pardon while I giggle again).

Here are two of Erick's tweets after the Tebow Superbowl ad controversy:

Those might be slightly abbreviated, given this take on the tweets:

Erickson, who is preternaturally good-looking, tweeted during the Super Bowl, "That's it?!?! That's what the feminazis were enraged over? Seriously?!? Wow. That's what being too ugly to get a date does to your brain."

Oh, and you know what else? They should get back in the kitchen! Yeah! "Thus ends the credibility of all pro-abortion groups. Thanks Mrs. Tebow for that. Ugly feminists return to their kitchens."

The conservative blogger, clearly determined to wedge every cartoon anti-feminist smear from the 70s into a great illustration of why booze and social media don't mix, continued "That's not smog in Miami. It's bras burning from the sheer stupidity of the pro-abortion crowd's reaction to the Tebow ad."

What will all those crazy, ugly feminists do next, to occupy all the empty time not spent on dates? What they do best: castrate.

"Next the feminist groups will lash out at all the commercials praising manly men. They'll trot out Lorena Bobbit to spade/neuter your man."

So funny. (And no. He is not good-looking unless you fancy slabs of beef with two tiny raisin eyes.)

Let's recap: CNN has hired a commentator who thinks that feminists should get back into the kitchen, who thinks that feminists are too ugly to get dates, who thinks that feminists all have castration shears hanging from their belts (that's only me).

Because he is an important voice! Bwahaha.

Where the Female Bloggers Are

Not at the meeting Speaker Pelosi organized for bloggers about the health care reform proposal:

I just got back from an on the record meeting for blogger with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Also present were David Waldman, Igor Volsky, Greg Sargent, Jason Rosenbaum, Ryan Grim, Chris Bowers, Brian Beutler, and John Aravosis. Aside from hearing a lot about parliamentary procedure that I think is being written about too much, and learning that having a woman Speaker of the House doesn't guarantee that any women will be at congressional blogger briefings, the main message was one of confidence: "I have faith in my members that we will be passing this legislation."

Perhaps women were invited but couldn't make it? I hope so because the alternative makes me think of Maggy Thatcher in many pictures of this type:


Taylor Marsh points out the same nonexistent female bloggers. She also links to a MoveOn video (though I can't see it marked as such), about how Democrats should vote on whatever the final health care reform bill might be. The video is pretty weird watching from the gender angle, too:

Why does any of this matter? Because of what has been offered up as THE compromise in the whole debacle: Further reductions in women's reproductive choice. To add insult to injury is neither smart nor kind. That's why I reallyreally hope that Pelosi invited umpteen female bloggers but they were all too busy to attend. The alternative would make me angry.

Monday, March 15, 2010

From Echidne's Mailbag

This piece on the adman and art director George Lois is interesting. It's about the history of feminism, in an odd sort of way.

Jaclyn Friedman writes about college policies when it comes to rape.

VT (thanks!) sent me a link to a website which sells a perfume named after me. The description is hilarious:

This was the divine and haughty Ekhidna, and half of her is a Nymphe with a fair face and eyes glancing, but the other half is a monstrous ophis, terrible, enormous and squirming and voracious, there in earth's secret places. For there she has her cave on the underside of a hollow rock, far from the immortal gods, and far from all mortals.

I'm partial to frankincense, actually.

Give Nazia Some Help

Katha Pollitt has written about the troubled situation of Nazia Quazi. She is a Canadian woman trapped in Saudi Arabia because of her father's acts and the patriarchal laws of that country:

For more than two years Nazia, an IT specialist who graduated from the University of Ottawa and holds dual Canadian-Indian citizenship, has been trying to leave Riyadh and go home to Canada. Her troubles began on November 23, 2007, when she entered Saudi Arabia with her parents on a visitor's visa. In Saudi Arabia, foreign visitors must have a sponsor, a local man who handles their paperwork. Nazia's sponsor is her father, Quazi Malik Abdul Gaffar, an Indian citizen who has worked in Saudi Arabia for many years. At some point Nazia's father clandestinely switched her visitor's visa to a more permanent visa--one that requires that he, as her sponsor, approve her exit visa. This he refuses to do. No exit visa, no departure. Worse, Nazia says he has confiscated both her Indian and Canadian passports and all her identity documents--driver's license, health card, credit cards and so on--and refuses to return them. She is trapped.

Nazia's father is not only her sponsor; he is also her mahram, or guardian, the male relative who in the Saudi system controls nearly every moment of a woman's life. As detailed in a 2008 Human Rights Watch report, under this system a woman must seek her mahram's permission to go to school, travel abroad, marry, open a bank account, hold a job, rent an apartment or even have elective surgery. (In June the Saudi government told the UN Human Rights Council that the guardianship system no longer exists, but HRW and the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan confirm that it does.) In effect, it makes women children for life--there are middle-aged Saudi women who are under the legal control of their own sons. Nazia's father thus has not only been able to force his daughter, through the sponsorship system, to remain in Riyadh; as her mahram he has total control of her life while she is there--even though neither Nazia nor her father is a Saudi citizen.

And there the situation stands. For some reason the Canadian government has been reluctant to help Ms. Quazi. The Human Rights Watch has taken up her case but so far nothing much seems to be happening.

It seems that all Canadian citizens are not created equal.

If you would like to help Nazia so that she can go home to Canada, contact the individuals Katha lists in her recent post.

On Misogyny and Misandry

Suzie's post below made me thing about man-hating vs. woman-hating, especially this bit:

Because of her depictions of men and penises, the Daily Beast says, Aurel Schmidt got tagged as a man-hater. "I was coming across a little feminist-y." To Yablonsky, Schmidt says, "I don't want anyone to accuse me of being a man hater, which I'm not." Schmidt must believe that her gender affects her success. After all, a man who made the same art wouldn't be perceived as a feminist man-hater.

The equal-sign between a man-hater and a feminist is always exciting for me. Why is demanding equal opportunities for women and equal respect for traditionally female spheres of activity the same as man-hating?

And why is that label so frightening? It seems to be frightening or at least something one has to defend oneself against. Yet even Rush Limbaugh can't be bothered to defend himself against the accusations of misogyny (except by joking that he likes Women's Movement, especially from behind).

All this teaches us about the society we live in, its customs and its power distribution. A fairly large dose of misogyny (locker-room talk about them c**ts and such) is regarded as normal, as average, and really giant doses of misogyny (ask me sometimes about my travels on men's rights sites and how much the consequent therapy costs) is labeled as deviant behavior, something to be ignored. Even I, a feminazi of the highest category, often skip reading comments threads full of woman-hating. Life is too short and I'm but one goddess.

But life doesn't seem to be too short for all those magnifying glasses which come out to detect man-hating, and odd things qualify for it.

My point is not that man-hating would be nonexistent. It's not. But it's rare when compared to woman-hating, and the latter is much more socially expected, ignored and even approved. Both men and some women engage in the latter but I can't remember ever seeing a man engage in the former (in the sense of saying really nasty things about his own gender) and the number of women I'd call man-haters is quite small, too.

As I'm an optimistic goddess I hope that the overall levels of misogyny are low, too. But it really is too culturally invisible for us to say for certain. Just go through some of the Great Works of Western Civilizations or the major books of the three Abrahamic religions and what you find is zero man-hating but plenty of woman-hating. In a sense we are all prepped to accept some woman-hating as normal.

Women Guilty Of Feeling Guilty? Conclusion: Reasons Are Genetic.

This is today's science topic. Or rather today's science popularization topic, because I wish to address this write-up of a Spanish study about the gender differences in feeling guilty:

Kim Moldofsky can feel guilt over just about anything — her children, stray cats, her work, her husband. "I am easily guilted," she told me, laughing.

Meanwhile, her husband, Brad, 41, remains blissfully guilt-free. "He is kind and caring but he can be more detached," said Moldofsky, a 41-year-old "mom blogger" and social media strategist near Chicago. "Sometimes I want him to get caught up in the emotion."

So, apparently, does a team of Spanish psychological researchers. In a reversal of Professor Henry Higgins' plaintive cry "Why can't a woman be more like a man?," it suggested that when it comes to guilt, men should be more like women.

Men are guilt-deficient, suggests the study, which was published in a recent issue of The Spanish Journal of Psychology. We lack "interpersonal sensitivity," while women suffer from destructive guilt largely imposed by society.

So women need support, while men need fixing. "This study highlights the need for educational practices and socializing agents to reduce the tendency towards anxious-aggressive guilt in women, and to promote interpersonal sensitivity in men," write the authors of the study, which was led by Dr. Itziar Extebarria of the Unversity [sic] of the Basque Country in Spain.

That's the summary of the study by the popularizer, one Brian Alexander, and it's sorta pre-flavored, to let you know what comes next.

And what does come next? Guess if he's going to say anything at all about ways to fix the excessive guilt feelings of women or if he's going on to discuss why men shouldn't be changed at all? I'll give you three seconds, my dear readers.

Yeah. He marshals three experts to discuss why men are the way they are, for genetic reasons. You are going to love these experts!

The first one is Christina Hoff Sommers. You might be familiar with her work which consists of feminist-bashing for the gal's auxiliary of the extreme right-wing in the U.S.. She's not a geneticist, though. She's a right-wing philosopher, famous for writing a book so endearingly entitled The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. Of course Ms. Sommers thinks that the Spanish study is guy-bashing.

Here's the next expert: Simon Baron-Cohen! Hilarious:

In his book "The Essential Difference," the Cambridge University neuroscientist Simon Baron-Cohen (cousin of Sacha of "Borat" fame) wrote: "The female brain is predominately hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems."

If you don't find that hilarious, you should know that Baron-Cohen actually has no direct evidence for that assertion, what with us not knowing about the genes underlying empathy and so on. I don't think he's a neuroscientist, either, at least based on the Wiki description of his education. His serious research is in autism.

I have read The Essential Difference and can't take it seriously. He has several chapters on how he imagines prehistoric sexual division of labor, all off the top of his head. And his theory about women being all empathetic and men all systemic thinkers is just a new wrapper on the old theory that women are emotional and men are intelligent. Besides being based on a false dichotomy (yes, Virginia, you can be both! Or neither! And that's true for Virgil, too!), it is based on a questionnaire with biased questions. I have blogged about him here and here, for instance.

But wait! The popularizing Mr. Alexander actually interviews someone who might be a real expert: Elizabeth Shirtcliff, a psychologist and behavioral endocrinologist. Now we are going to learn exactly which genes are responsible for the excessive guilt of women and the lack of guilt in men! Here she comes:

The answer is yes, explained Elizabeth Shirtcliff, a psychologist and behavioral endocrinologist at the University of New Orleans. The fact is, men are supposed to feel guilt less intensely because men are, generally, less empathetic than women. It's the way evolution made us. But few people want to talk about it in those terms.

"Unfortunately, this is controversial," sighed Shirtcliff. "Anytime you talk about gender differences there are politics involved." For example, she said, "it does not fit with our modern egalitarian view we want to raise boys with."

Oops. That's not quite what I thought I was going to learn here. I thought it was going to be all about hormones and genes and shit. Instead, I'm being told that an egalitarian view isn't a good one to raise boys with. What would be better, then? A feudal view? A patriarchal view? A Taliban view?

That's my summary of Mr. Alexander's piece, though of course you should read all of it. What's most astonishing about it is the 180-degree turn it takes from the research it supposedly popularizes, not only in terms of arguing for a firm genetic explanation (which we cannot prove with today's evidence) but also (and this is more revealing of the underlying values) in terms of completely ignoring the idea that women might actually feel bad about all the guilt. Somehow that dropped into the Memory Hole, real fast.

But of course you have to do that if the differences are completely rigid and if they have nothing to do with the culture or the environment, naturally. You also have to equate empathy with "feeling excessive guilt."

I probably should add the usual warning: I'm not arguing here for the absence of some average genetic differences in the two genders when it comes to empathy, say. I'm pointing out that it is an open question, not something which various weirdly-picked experts can pronounce on. We simply do not have the data needed for such pronouncements.

I also don't like the simple erasure of all societal effects on such differences. For instance, the expectations in most societies are very different for men and women when it comes to who is responsible for children and how well they turn out. If women are held to much higher standards in that field then excessive guilt might be a fairly logical response (given the scarcity of supermoms). Likewise, traditionally women have been held responsible for the survival of marriages.
Link to Alexander's piece by kms.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Austin art & music (by Suzie)

Austin artist Mark Goad created this vintage-style movie poster to accompany a screenplay sent to a Los Angeles producer. Mark and the screenwriter are my friends, and I'd love to see a movie made about the WASPs, the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

I wrote this in December and meant to post it, but then my sister arrived in town, blah blah blah. I found it labeled "draft" in Blogger. I went looking for it after Echidne posted last week on the WASPs. Click on the artwork to see more details.

If any of you are in Austin this week, check out Mark's fourth annual Red River Art Party 4-11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at 94 Red River St. In addition to his art, there will be comedy and music, including Cookie McGee, Hoodygoode, the Jessica Shepherd Band, Lisa Byrn, Ledaswan, Loretta Callens, Jennifer Mansfield Peal and the debut of Katherine Dawn's all-female band TX LadyBugs. Listen to Jennifer's "Ballad of Susanna Dickenson," about the woman and her baby who survived the siege of the Alamo.

Although near the South by Southwest (SXSW) events, this party isn't officially sanctioned. It's free, but donations will be accepted for the screenwriter, who chose to remain anonymous in this post. She's struggling with MS.

Mark takes on labors of love, such as this poster, and is now working on something for me. To earn some money, he started doing chores for older people and ended up arranging and highlighting their keepsakes, in what he calls redneck feng shui.