Friday, July 19, 2013

Old People With Plants On Their Heads

Very interesting artwork.  Someone in the comments notes that not all the models are Finns.  Some of them are Norwegians.

This reminded me of the necklaces I made out of rowan-berries as a child.  All you need is a needle and some thread and you can have rubies around your neck!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Is Feminism A Dirty Word? A Re-Posting

(Re-posted from here)

That's in the address of a Guardian piece with the final title:
Why is 'feminism' such a tough badge to  wear?'

Do read the piece.  What I want to write about are the comments because they are more illuminating about the possible answers.  Let's see if I can put them into some kind of classes:

First Class of Arguments

This is the argument that the piece itself mentions:
As Siobhan Garrigan, who studies English at the University of Lincoln, puts it: "Young people don't want to identify as feminists because there is this man-hating, frumpy, lesbian image forced on us."
You must have heard about those accusations many, many times before!  I certainly have.  I'm gorgeous, lurve men (especially with pesto and garlic) and, sadly, fail to be anything but quite heterosexual.  Well OK.  I'm not gorgeous.  But I certainly am not frumpy!  The gall, she mutters.

All joking aside, those three accusations don't have anything to do with each other.  The first one states that anyone wanting gender equality must hate men.  That's pretty weird.  The second one argues, that women who want gender equality cannot be attractive enough to get men in a system where women are second-class citizens.  Only unattractive women would want equality!

That's illogical, too.  Finally, one's sexuality has nothing to do with one's desire for a gender-equal society.  All illogical, says Echidne.

But squint your eyes a bit, and you see the underlying pattern,  what all three of these things share:  These women do not try to please men.  Or that's the suspicion of anyone using those accusations.  Wanting equality means not wanting to please men.  Therefore, women who want equality must hate men, be unattractive or prefer women in their sexuality.

Now, I don't accept those accusations.  I'm also willing to admit that there have been feminists who hate men (but nowhere near the numbers of MRA guys who hate women), that all social justice movements have more or less frumpy people of both sexes in them and so on.  But no other social justice movement is taken to task for anything similar.  No other social justice movement needs to say "but of course we love you, other guys!" or try to make sure that their members are nicely made-up and properly behaved.  It's only demanded of feminism, and that, I suspect, is because of women's traditional roles and traditional gender stereotypes.

Besides, the sexes are not independent of each other, and statements which ostracize feminism have a powerful impact because of that.  Nobody wants to be shunned by the groups of their peers, after all. 

Second Class of Arguments

This crops up quite a bit in the comments.  In the more sophisticated form it's a criticism of feminism as a political movement without intersectionalityIn the rougher forms the argument is about rich women perhaps being slightly worse off than rich men but who cares?  As one commentator states, how do poor women get helped if some women become judges or famous television personalities?  Her life remains the same.

From the latter angle feminism is unimportant because it is  seen as a movement which only focuses on wealthy, educated, white women who are better off than, say, poor, uneducated, black men.  Or poor women of any race.

Here I want to draw a distinction between feminism as-a-political-movement and feminism-as-a-theory.  The two are different, I've come to believe, and while intersectionality is important in both fields, the idea that focusing on gender in isolation isn't useful for anyone but the top women in the society is misplaced when it comes to theory.

It helps to understand how gender plays a role in the hierarchical ladders. One possible way that game might go is that women are slightly worse off than men who are otherwise the same in the kinds of things which determine the rung of the ladder we inhabit.  If that's the case, then poor women could be slightly worse off than poor men, for instance.

Or perhaps not.  The question is ultimately an empirical one and the studies must be done separately for each society.  But that has been the traditional setting when it comes to comparing men and women and it is probably still valid in most countries of this world.

Beliefs about the proper roles of men and women and beliefs about women's worth have an impact on all members of the society, including its women.  Seeing powerful women performing well in areas which have not traditionally allowed women that chance can change stereotypes and sexist beliefs.  In that sense what happens at the very top of the society does matter to all women and men.

Those who argue that the problems with sexism otherwise privileged women have don't matter fail to understand that similar and worse problems affect women further down the ladders.  Not studying those problems will hurt all women, ultimately.

I'm not sure how clear I have been.  There's a difference between intersectionality and between the argument that feminism should be a social justice movement which supports every cause and all people.

Intersectionality plays a useful and important role.  Turning feminism into some kind of a general social justice movement would leave the question of gender unexamined.  Other social justice movements are unlikely to take up the slack.

This class of arguments also fails to appreciate that much feminist writing IS about intersectionality.

And to argue that some different cause (such as income inequality)  is more important than feminism is to fail to take into account the intersectionality in that place.  It also assumes that we must pick one cause and focus on that alone.  I don't know about you but I can run and chew gum and plan my next blog post all at the same time.

Third Class of Arguments

These are the arguments that it is the men who are worse off in Western societies.  Feminists are accused of not working to reduce the rates of male-on-male violence, including the rates of male suicide, or of not trying for the most dangerous jobs in equal numbers or of not working to get more fathers child custody in the case of a divorce.

Yet a very consistent tone in the orchestra that is feminist music has always focused on the evils that traditional gender roles can cause.  A few examples:

Mothers are more likely to get custody in the case of a divorce when the society believes that mothers should do the hands-on care of the children. Stay-at-home parents are more likely to get custody than the family breadwinners, and the vast majority of stay-at-home parents are women.  (It's a completely different question whether fathers, indeed, are treated especially unfairly in custody courts.  Evidence suggests that in most cases the divorcing parents agree on who should have custody and when this is not the case, fathers win at least one half of all the cases in the US.)

Traditional definitions of masculinity have sometimes glorified violence.  To the extent that feminism has opposed such definitions, it has also opposed one of the many causes for male-on-male violence.

The most dangerous traditionally male jobs do not always welcome women with open arms.  Sexual harassment can be used as a way to defend one's turf.  It's important to note that women don't necessarily make a simple choice not to become, say, firefighters.  Also, as I've mentioned before, prostitution is probably the occupation with the highest risk of violent death, and it is a female-dominated occupation.  But because it is often an illegal one, its riskiness does not enter occupational safety statistics.

It's a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't argument.  Feminists should work hard on men's liberation because women have more "choices" than men do.  But when feminists do suggest that men should be able to become stay-at-home-parents or that men should be encouraged to react to anger in ways other than violence, they become interfering bitches who disobey biological imperatives and so on.   It's hard for me to know what some of these extremist MRA people want, because on the one hand they want feminists to work for the liberation of men and on the other hand they want the old-time gender roles to come back and feminists to shut up.

The best way to address these issues (in addition to getting the actual facts about them) is by pointing out that feminism wants equal opportunities by gender and equal valuation of traditionally male and female spheres of activity.  Feminists who encourage women to take up the bread-winning role or who encourage women to become firefighters or police officers should please these types of MRA people, right?  Because that way more women will die in the dangerous jobs and more men will be SAHDs and then get custody in the case of a divorce.   Well, that last sentence is only half-serious.  The point is that much of feminist agenda IS giving men more choices, should they want them.

Perhaps one could also mention that violence IS studied a lot in the society, and much of that study is about male-on-male violence.  It's hard to see what input the feminist movement with its meager funds could contribute to what is already being done.

I have trouble with this group of argument because it veers from one end to the other.  At one extreme, the argument is that the most traditional gender norms were the correct ones.  At the other extreme, feminists should work to liberate men whom those traditional gender norms have enslaved.

Fourth Class of Arguments

This is another familiar one:  The feminist movement was needed in the past (and perhaps still is,  in places like Saudi Arabia) but women in the Western countries are now completely equal with men.

What makes the argument familiar is that people wrote about it earnestly in the late nineteenth century and then again in the 1930s and so on and so on.  Makes you think, doesn't it?

Women in the West are certainly much better off now than, say, a hundred years ago.  We can vote, for one thing.  But the Church of England still won't have female bishops, the Catholic Church is an all-boys-club and so is Islam.  The number of women in the parliaments of most countries is nowhere near 50%,  sexual violence is still a problem and, most importantly, misogyny still manages to exist.

I'm grateful for the changes past generations of feminists spent their lives bringing about.  Very grateful.  But I don't think the job is over and done with.  Whenever I feel like that, I go cruising on the net and get my head put right again.  All it takes is participation in some poorly moderated forum while using a female-sounding pen-name.  Or reading YouTube comments...

And as long as we are not affecting the gender roles at home we will not see ultimate gender equality in the wider society.


To conclude, let me state that, yes,  some aspects of feminism have gone astray in the past, and, yes, there are always ways to make the social justice movement that is feminism more inclusive and more effective and fairer.  At the same time, the feminism of the past got women the vote, fairer laws and fairer retirement benefits.  It got women access to schools and colleges and jobs.  It got women mentioned in the history books.  It got women their own bank accounts and the right to enter contracts.   It cast light on the once-common belief that rape is a shame for the victim and better kept hidden.

And today?  We discuss how dirty a word "feminism" might be.

The paradox of my kind of feminism is this:  The problems of sexism have been fixed when each individual is judged as an individual, not as a representative of a whole gender.   Yet the only way to see the sexist treatment of any one individual is by looking at how it is affected by  the beliefs and prejudices and societal practices which apply to one's whole gender.

That's what I have tried to do on this blog, over the years (send money!).  It may not be the kind of feminism this Guardian article or the comments attached to it discuss.  It may not even be feminism, who knows, and it may have very limited value.  But from my snake's-eye-viewpoint most of the arguments classes I amassed miss the point of feminism, and it really is to remove that ankle-cuff with your sex etched on it.  So that we can all run free or something.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Was It Good For You, Too, Baby? Or What's The Point of The Female Orgasm? A Re-Posting

I wrote two posts on this question, with the basic premise that I know nothing (except in a laygoddess way if one can even regard us divines as lay-anything), and that I was going to ask questions in these posts.  But to be honest, I think female orgasm is there to make women more willing to have sex. 

The first post is here,  the second here.

After reading them again, I'm more struck by the lack of interest in the female multiple orgasms.  Research which looks pretty neutral often has an odd tilt, because the questions we feel are important are already embedded in our  societal ideas. 

Thus, it looks obvious (but is it?) that men need to orgasm to ejaculate, but that women don't have to orgasm to get pregnant, so we start from the assumption that the female orgasm is like a frilly collar.  Nice to have, but probably not essential at all.

But if the female orgasm is just a happy byproduct of the male orgasm, how come many women routinely have multiple orgasms and very few men seem to have that knack?   And how come that doesn't  result in a vast field of research?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Most Oppressed People in America: White Men!

So tells us Suzanne Venker,*  the resident misogynist at Fox News.  Her whole article is deliciously hilarious, but the best bit is this:

Yet it is males who suffer in our society. From boyhood through adulthood, the White American Male must fight his way through a litany of taunts, assumptions and grievances about his very existence. His oppression is unlike anything American women have faced. Unlike women, however, men don’t organize and form groups when they’ve been persecuted. They just bow out of the game.

I especially LOVE the idea that the oppression of white Murkan  men is unlike anything Murkan women have faced! ** Given that universities didn't even use to let women in as students, Venker's long paragraphs about boys doing worse at school are pretty interesting.  At least nobody is banning men from colleges by law.  Indeed, many colleges practice hidden affirmative action to admit more men.

Venker's article is a good example of how to write propaganda.  You ignore all evidence which does not support your argument and you replace statistical evidence with anecdotes.

As examples of the former, Venker says nothing about the fact that white men are the vast majority of all Americans with real power:  Most CEOs are white men, most stockbrokers are white men, the military is led by white men, almost all religious leaders are men and most of them are white men.  The majority of professors are white men and so is the majority of famous writers, painters and sculptors.  There are more men on television than women, and men have more speaking roles in movies.

Indeed,  it is very hard  to think of any powerful roles which are not held by that horribly oppressed group: white American men.

According to Venker,  the oppression of men begins in childhood:

The war on men actually begins in grade school, where boys are at a distinct disadvantage. Not only are curriculums centered on girls’, rather than boys,’ interests, the emphasis in these grades is on sitting still at a desk. 
Plus, many schools have eliminated recess. Such an environment is unhealthy for boys, for they are active by nature and need to run around. And when they can’t sit still teachers and administrators often wrongly attribute their restlessness to ADD or ADHD. The message is clear: boys are just unruly girls.

So girls don't need recess?  Eliminating it was done as part of the war on boys, I guess.  And the design of the curriculum and the requirement to sit still are part of the same war.  There's only one snag:  The schools were, in fact, created only for boys a long time ago, and the current system is just a continuation of that design.  Put in a different way, boys were always expected to sit still during classes, even when girls weren't allowed in at all.

I have written many times about the fact that even extremely patriarchal countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have the same gender imbalance in colleges (until maximum quotas are put on girls/women) as the US.  It's hard to see how any of this could be caused by some war on boys in the US.  The real reasons are elsewhere.

But Venker doesn't care!  She moves on to explain why Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in college, is oppressing men.  There are two reasons.

First, demanding equal athletic resources to both sexes oppresses men because Venker believes that men are inherently more interested in sports.  She applies familiar right-wing language to all this: we want equal opportunities, not forced equal outcomes:

Things are no better in college. There, young men face the perils of Title IX, the 1972 law designed to ban sex discrimination in all educational programs. 
Under Title IX, the ratio of female athletes is supposed to match the ratio of female students. So if not enough women sign up for, say, wrestling and ice hockey, well then: no more wrestling and ice hockey. 
What was once viewed equal opportunity for women has become something else altogether: a demand for equal outcomes. Those are not the same thing at all.

I think I'm in love with this woman because she is sooo funny!

What is the role of athletics in college?  Either they are an important part of education, in which case male and female students should be required to participate in them equally, OR they are a benefit akin to swimming pools in hotels:  A convenience.  If they are the latter, and if men actually are more likely to enjoy sports for some innate reasons, why is this convenience provided without offering women something roughly equivalent?  

That's a deep point, by the way, though the actual situation in US colleges is complicated by the fact that some male sports are also money-makers for colleges.  Still, in many colleges providing athletic opportunities costs money.  One might argue that requiring female students to pay for sports of the kind Venker wishes to see (where more men participate for innate reasons) could be unfair.

The other peril of Title IX, according to Venker, is utterly frightening for every single man in America:

Title IX is also abused when it comes to sex. In 1977, a group of women at Yale used Title IX to claim sexual harassment and violence constitute discrimination against women. 
Genuine harassment and violence should be punishable offenses, obviously. But the college campus is a breeding ground for sexual activity, which makes determining wrongdoing (and using Title IX to prove it) extremely difficult. Sexual misconduct does not necessarily constitute harassment—and women have as much of a role to play as men do.
Here again men are in an impossible situation, for there’s an unspoken commandment when it comes to sex in America: thou shalt never blame the woman. If you’re a man who’s sexually involved with a woman and something goes wrong, it’s your fault. Simple as that.

Bolds are mine.   We are now wading in very  muddy waters, where crocodiles suddenly lift their heads with gaping maws full of frightening teeth.   To snap up innocent penises, probably.

The above quote and what follows it in Venker's article lacks any statistical data.  She uses the opinion piece of one woman whose son was accused of sexual misdoings in college as evidence that college sexual harassment investigations always find men guilty.

If I wasn't on vacation and away from my archives I'd link here to at least two cases where the college procedures freed the accused men and I'd also link to the case (perhaps a school case) where a cheerleader who had accused one of the players of rape was made to cheer while the alleged rapist was in the field.  And so on.

The point here is that anecdotal evidence tells us nothing.  We don't even know if the young man in that opinion piece Venker mentions is innocent or guilty.

But  according to Venker, whenever something "goes wrong" in  a sexual relationship, it's the man who goes to prison.  That is why American prisons are chock full of sentenced rapists and sexual harassers and so on and so on, and that is why women report every single rape so religiously.

Except that they do not report most rapes, and even the cases that are reported rarely lead to a conviction.  But I'd really like to know what Venker means by something "going wrong" in a sexual relationship.  Is it a euphemism for rape or for unsatisfactory sex or what?  A malfunction??  And who decides when harassment is genuine and violence real?  Suzanne Venker?

Poor, poor men.  If the lack of recess didn't stifle them they got caught in the False Rape Accusation Conspiracy in college.  And if they somehow got through all that still free and feisty, the Family Courts certainly finish them off:

When men become husbands and fathers, things get really bad. In family courts throughout America, men are routinely stripped of their rights and due process. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is easily used against them since its definition of violence is so broad that virtually any conflict between partners can be considered abuse.
“If a woman gets angry for any reason, she can simply accuse a man and men are just assumed guilty in our society,” notes Dr. Helen Smith, author of the new book, "Men on Strike." This is particularly heinous since, as Smith adds, violence in domestic relations “is almost 50% from men and 50% from women.”

Note the generalizing tone of the argument:  "when men become husbands and fathers..."  Every man appears to have his rights stripped in family courts, usually because some horrible woman accuses him of violence.  And every man loses in the family court!  

That is utter crap, of course.  In fact, when divorcing spouses disagree on child custody, fathers are awarded custody in more than half the cases (I have links to this in my home archives).
And there are violent ex-partners.   In Pennsylvania some years ago  a  mentally ill non-custodial father killed his children  during one of his weekends with them.  His ex-wife had tried to stop his visitation rights because of the danger caused by his particular state of mind but the Family Court sided with the man in that case.
The question of bias in family courts is an empirical question.  In other words, it requires research, not stupid and unsupported statements such as  “If a woman gets angry for any reason, she can simply accuse a man and men are just assumed guilty in our society,” 

Venker's stuff is really weird.  Here's another sweet thing:  She argues that the VAWA defines violence so broadly that virtually any conflict between partners can be considered abuse.  But the reference to the50/50 split in who initiates domestic violence is to a study which defines violence so broadly that almost anything qualifies as abuse. That study is also about the dating of quite young individuals, not about family violence.  Data on the murders of men and women by their intimate partners  does not show equal numbers of male and female perpetrators.

And the usual declaration:
None of what I say here is intended to mean that men are never mistreated or that there aren't serious problems that go with the traditional male gender role.


*Venker has earlier written that women should stop competing with men:
Contrary to what feminists like Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, say, the so-called rise of women has not threatened men. It has pissed them off. It has also undermined their ability to become self-sufficient in the hopes of someday supporting a family. Men want to love women, not compete with them. They want to provide for and protect their families – it’s in their DNA. But modern women won’t let them.


 Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.
If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.
 In another article for Fox News Venker argues that women must accept inequality to be happy.

**If we go back far enough, married women had no rights to their own property or their own earnings, women were routinely barred from several types of occupations, night-work etc., female teachers could be fired when they got married or when they got pregnant, married women couldn't open a bank account without their husband's signature or get a loan  without it, until quite recently, and so on.

Is Higher Education A Good Thing?

That seems to be the new question in education debates.  I wrote about it in February and then again in May.

I have some extra thoughts about education in general.   We should NOT accept the new view of education as pretty much just what corporations want their workers to learn.  We should fight that view, because real education matters far too much to be given such a narrow interpretation.  Besides, what the corporations want from us can change in a flash.

Education should teach us how to think and how to judge information we receive.  And all children should be taught arts, music and physical education, because they make our lives better and are an important part of being members of homo sapiens.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On Picking Nits

This old post from 2008 tells the reasons why I sometimes write about issues which seem trivial.  My views haven't changed too much from those times, though today I'd probably write more on the battles within feminisms.  What a worthy topic or subject is can be debated more widely than on the terms I took five years ago.