Friday, August 09, 2013

Speed Blogging August 9, 2013. On Acid Attacks, Climate Change, US Politics and the Financial Markets. Sorta.

Acid attacks tend to have female victims.  The numbers quoted in this article suggest that 75-80% of the victims are female. 

Why that is the case might be worth thinking about.  I'm not convinced with the argument made  by a surgeon in the article that the aim is to destroy someone's identity alone, because then it would have larger numbers of male victims.  My guess is that the aim is to destroy the public existence of the person or to destroy what the attacker feels is most important in women:  their looks.

Crooks and Liars writes about the seniors leaving the Republican Party.  Seems fascinating, though I have not looked into the data at all.  Also on their site, a story about the starved polar bear, perhaps as a cause of global climate change.  Warning:  the link leads to a picture.

This is a weird story about a Russian man writing in his own amendments to a credit card agreement.  It's kinda funny, except that you can guess who will ultimately pay the costs of it.   Or would pay the costs in the US.  I don't know if Russia is different, but the more we have rich oligarchies ruling the world the less likely it is that the members of those same oligarchies will bear the costs of much anything.  Says she, bitterly.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Fox and Friends on Feminism As Unnecessary

In case you like a bitter laugh to complete your day:

In that video Stossel tells us that there is nothing that remains undone for feminism.  Indeed, the clip begins by showing girls playing princess, in a caring way, and boys turning triangles into guns to play war.

Now that we have shown clearly and decisively that the sexes ARE different, the rest of the piece argues why equality already exists.   And that we shouldn't try for it because the sexes ARE different.

We are fed a list of myths, some of which Stossel convincingly proves false by not having any economics training or any understanding about how labor markets work, some of which he proves false by determining that they are false based on the outcomes.  For an example of the latter, public schools discriminate against boys because fewer boys than girls go to college.  Yet a similar difference, women earning less, on average, is interpreted as not discriminatory at all.

In other words, different outcomes are sometimes quite fear and natural (women earning less) and sometimes discriminatory (boys not going to college as often).

Then there's the myth about Title IX.  Stossel argues that boys are keener to do college sports than girls and that this means we should abolish Title IX (which, by the way, bans sex discrimination in higher education in academics as well) but continue funding an activity which is not part of academics and only really liked by one gender.

As a conclusion, then, difference are natural when they seem to benefit men, unnatural when they seem to benefit women.  Got it?

I have written on much of Stossel's supposed myths list many times, on much higher level of analysis, so I won't repeat myself here.  But I'd like to pick just one of his comments for closer scrutiny:

Doocy and Stossel first attempted to tackle the gender pay gap. While admitting that it is true women are paid 77 cents for each dollar men make, Stossel claimed the discrepancy is because, "we don't work the same jobs." The reason, according to him, is that "women have their priorities in order. They often choose jobs that are less time-consuming, not so far away, and not as dangerous." He concluded that if a true pay gap existed, the market would have sorted it out.

On the market sorting the gap out:  He refers to one very simplistic economic theory there, and more realistic theories (which add uncertainty, lack of information, asymmetric information and possible co-worker and customer biases into the model as well as imperfect market conditions) do not prove that the market would have "sorted it out."  Note, also, that if markets sort stuff out so efficiently the collapse of the housing and financial markets should make Mr. Stossel eat his tie.

On women "choosing" jobs which are less time-consuming, not so far away, and not as dangerous:  First, this is not really "choice," in the sense of you choosing coffee and me choosing tea.  If women are responsible for childcare, laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping at home they will find working longer hours harder than otherwise completely identical men do.   Whether women tend to work closer to their homes is something I have never seen studied, but if that is the case the reason for it is also likely to be in the need to be able to pick up the kids from daycare and then get the food for the evening dinner and to pick up the dry-cleaning etc.

Also, the "choices" men and women make are not independent of each other.  A full-time breadwinner helps a stay-at-home spouse to stay at home, the latter helps the former to focus on career.  When both spouses work the division of household chores may not fall equally.  One solution to the disagreements this might cause is for the lower-paid spouse to cut back on her or his hours.

Second, dangerous jobs are not common enough to explain average earnings differences between men and women, and most of the highest-paying male-dominated jobs are not dangerous.  Some female-dominated jobs (prostitution) are very dangerous.

And how dangerous a job is often depends on one's gender.  Consider driving a taxi in a large urban area.  Women can do that job but are uncommon among taxi drivers.  I believe that this is mostly because a woman driving a taxicab late at night faces higher risks than a man.  Both can be robbed, mugged or killed but she can also be raped and abducted for that purpose, and she is much more likely to face sexual harassment from her customers.  In short, we need to view the concept of "danger" without gender-blinders on.

Third, studies do NOT show that once we DECIDE the gender differences in earning are just by choice, all differences vanish in a mildly sour-smelling puff of bad air.  The studies that come up with that conclusion do not control for all relevant variables, look at only some sub-groups, such as young adults and fail to deal with the problem that men and women being in different kinds of jobs, on average, does NOT PROVE that those different types of jobs were picked without any pressure or outside discrimination or the impact of traditional gender expectations and so on.  Indeed, the easiest way to discriminate against some member of a defined group is to keep that person in a job which cannot be easily compared with the jobs people of other groups hold.  For example, a bigot might not promote women or members of a minority etc, mostly because she or he truly believes that those workers are not as good or that they are more likely to quit or more likely to take time off.

It's much, much more complicated than Mr. Stossel wants us to believe.

It is still true that our job expectations are gendered.  Jobs which are coded as suitable for women tend to be lower-paying and sometimes (but not always or even usually) offer greater flexibility for childcare duties. 

There's a sense in which deciding on one's job on the basis of gendered expectations IS a choice.  If a young man believes or anticipates that he is going to be responsible for supporting a family financially one day, he is less likely to choose education which doesn't lead to well-paid jobs.  In reverse, if a young woman believes or anticipates that she is going to be responsible for all childcare one day, she might be less likely to choose education which leads to  well-paying but rigidly defined and time-intensive jobs.*  Once these early choices are made, they, in turn, will affect future choices.

I don't know.  I get hot-and-bothered on people telling untruths or telling their own opinions as truths.  Only us goddesses are allowed to do the latter and nobody is allowed to do the first.
*There are also obvious rewards for both of the traditional paths.  Having a home-team to take care of everything else is great for an ambitious and career-directed person, having a full-time source of funding is great if it allows for a less hectic space, more time with one's children and perhaps even time for doing something one wants to do but can't get paid for.  At the same time, the negative consequences of these choices are real and painful. My interest in this is ultimately linked to the question which roles have which societal consequences, how the society changes or adapts or does not, and what this all means in fields such as misogynistic views about women's abilities to lead, the dependence of women on possibly dysfunctional family setups and also what fathers lose when their traditional roles in the family are to be the wallet or the guy with the whip.

More Media Quicksand: The "Opt-Out Revolution" Cancelled?

This bit of quicksand has to do with my frustration with so much of the debate on various political issues including feminism.  The more sand someone brings into the debate in that blue or pink plastic pail, the more we all sink.

The point is that the debates don't increase clarity after a point and if they continue long enough they  increase confusion.  That's partly because people make emotional arguments while insisting that they are not emotional arguments.

That needs clarifying (Echidne sitting on the beach shifting sand).  I don't mean that emotional arguments don't have a place, that who-wins-and-who-loses isn't important.  All those are crucial aspects of many debates.  But the debates I follow are mostly tugs-of-war, not attempts to find out what happened and why, and often the fight is about whose emotions matter the most.  Because that depends on the eye of the beholder the discussions get nowhere very fast.  Or rather, people get angry.

OK.  That was a bit quicksandish, too.  My thinking on this isn't clear.  I just noticed that I seemed more informed during my vacation than after I started following the Twitter and the blogs more intensely, and that's because of all the side roads the debates take and the way powerful personalities or strong guilt buttons etc. are employed in them.

The example I have for today isn't strictly on these topics but it shares some similarities.  It's a New York Times article titled  "The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In," by Judith Warner.

The article is interesting, discussing several individual cases of highly educated women who stayed at home with children during some periods of the last decade or so.  Warner's points are nuanced, and she dexterously steps around the usual bad-mother/good-mother setup the media so loves.  She also avoids the usual treatment of the husbands/fathers as the neutral bystanders in these types of stories and she also points out that the whole opt-out conversation was about pretty rich couples.

So I feel bad that reading the piece made me angry.  Which it did, and the reasons are dry-and-boring and immensely important.

Here's a sample of those reasons:

First, nobody has really shown me the data which proved that there ever WAS such an opt-out revolution.  Or rather, some women have always opted out.  Did that number greatly increase during the era when the term "opt-out revolution" was coined?

This matters.  False trend stories about women are the bread-and-butter of popular media, and this has been the case for decades.  The most common zombie trends (probably dead ones but shuffling out of the graves at regular intervals, slobbering bodily fluids all over the magazine and newspaper pages) are to do with a) Women Returning Home After Realizing The Horrible Error Of Working For Money,  b) Educated Women Not Being Able To Find Husbands and c) The Death of Feminism.

Even during my lifetime those three have cycled in pretty reliably.  By the way, the reverse stories never seem to be in fashion.  Thus, during the era when women's labor market participation rates dramatically increased the magazines and newspapers did not write about Women Leaving Home fires For Employment, After Realizing What An Error They Had Earlier Made.  The stories may have asked who was minding those home fires, of course.

So the first reason for my anger is that the trend of women dropping out of labor force smells so very bad to me, without good evidence, that I look for the zombie parade.

Second, and related to the first point, discussing three or four individual cases does not make a trend. ANYTHING can be made to look like a trend if all we use is anecdotal evidence.  I'm sure that I could find three women who prefer to wear their clothes inside-out, if I search hard enough.  I could probably find some anecdotal evidence for any faux trend you can name.

Third, even this article fails to light the background of these highly educated couples and their "choices."  It doesn't say much anything about the lack of paternal leave in the US, it's pretty silent about the idea that fathers could also stay at home if one parent is necessary and it stays mum about the general assumption that Women Are Responsible For Childcare.

That keeps the problem clearly and precisely in the women's camp.  It's women who have to balance work and family, it's women who "choose" something, and so on.  That the society chooses not to help at all is invisible.

Fourth, Warner notes that the discussion is always about high-flyers and often about educated white women in the US.  That's an important criticism.  But in a bizarre way I'm not sure if we want this discussion about all women.  How are poor women going to defend themselves from the bad-mother accusations because they can't stay at home?

Or in other terms:  This is a true problem but there are false solutions to fixing it.  The solutions that would work are federally funded parental leave, subsidized daycare and more father involvement on all levels.

Fifth, and related to the fourth point, all the zombie trends are about women who are almost in a position to grab real power.  That's why the trends are about educated women, about women who have well-paid husbands and so on.  If those women can be controlled then controlling other women is much, much easier.  It's women-and-power and who-minds-the-kids which are the real building blocks of the zombie stories, and the reason for the popularity of these stories is real anxiety about powerful women and about the power over fertility and the future generations.

I guess my anger has to do with a certain kind of belittling of these issues which the faux trend stories create.  They also direct the conversation into those familiar mommy war channels:  Am I a bad mother for "choosing" one thing over the other?  Is my whole life wasted or wrong?  And so on.

Then we get lots of anger and lots of defenses for one choice or the other, without any of the underlying problems changing. And lots of pieces about how all this is totally up to the individual woman.  Which it is, of course, in one sense, if we stay within the frames of the picture.  But if we step back and see the picture and its frames and then the wall it hangs on and then the room it's in, well, the crucial take-home messages change.
I want to stress that I don't think of Warner's article as part of the parade of zombies.  She gets several important points, including the frustration of many of the men with the traditional gender division of labor.  But I want to stretch everything much more.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Today's Great Joke: People Are Taking Satoshi Kanazawa Seriously

(Contents include racism and sexism and weird pseudoscience)

That guy is like Teflon.  Nothing seems to stick to him, sigh.

On the other hand, this is really funny:

Satoshi Kanazawa, the LSE psychologist behind the research, discussed the findings that maternal urges drop by 25% with every extra 15 IQ points in his book The Intelligence Paradox. In the opening paragraph of the chapter titled "Why intelligent people are the ultimate losers in life", he makes his feelings about voluntary childlessness very clear:
If any value is deeply evolutionarily familiar, it is reproductive success. If any value is truly unnatural, if there is one thing that humans (and all other species in nature) are decisively not designed for, it is voluntary childlessness. All living organisms in nature, including humans, are evolutionarily designed to reproduce. Reproductive success is the ultimate end of all biological existence.
What's funny about that?  Kanazawa is not a psychologist at all but a sociologist who has decided to do Evolutionary Psychology of the type which asks why "all" men prefer blonde Barbie doll women (answer: evolution) and why black women, according to Kanazawa, are ugly (answer: presumed manliness of black women).  He got a slap on the fingers a few years ago but is back telling us "the truth" about complicated issues which  nobody can actually study.

Sigh and sigh and sigh.  For more on this guy, check out my series ( part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and an addendum) on this article.

And another series on Kanazawa:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 .

I'm not gonna write on his arguments because it is a waste of time.   You know, such as IQ being the same as intelligence and all that other crap, not to mention having to wade through his methodology etc.


Added later:  Oh my.  Lots of people are quoting Kanazawa on this topic, including in the Washington Post. Though at least the author points out that Kanazawa's earlier research was a bit "controversial."

This is really worrying.  If a guy can do his utmost to be outed as something not quite savory, he still gets coverage in all the cool places.

Media Quicksand. Fox News

I've been on the beach, building sand-mountains (breast or penis symbols, perhaps) and using my bare toes as sand-shifters.  Such fun.

Then I return to my kinda-job as media watcher and I'm sinking in quicksand.   Here's why.  On Sunday I spent about three hours in a living-room with people chatting while the Fox News told everyone what the state of the world is.

And what a state!  Did you know that nothing worth reporting happens in most countries of this world, in the class of international news?  International news is only about Benghazi and about terror threats and how poorly Obama is managing terror. 

US domestic news are about shark attacks and how those are becoming more common.   The pictures repeated often show the maws of sharks coming out of water, trying to eat you up!  The interviews (most of which I couldn't hear well, what with the chatter in the room) seemed to be about how much more common shark attacks are now.

So I tried to find data on shark attacks.  This site suggests that 2013 attacks in the US have caused one death among humans.  The world number of 2013 deaths is eleven.

It could be that the attacks are increasing.  But sharks-as-killers we should worry about instead of the human killers of various types or environmental catastrophe? 

The Fox News are very biased, of course, as are probably any news from political extremes.  But I never realized that the bias is more on WHAT is covered both in what is omitted completely from the coverage (anything having to do with the woes of capitalism, say) and what rubbish is covered 24/7) than in the inserted bias of the contents of specific coverage.

Though the latter abounds, too. 

So I sat there, getting more and more scared.  Not about sharks but about the idea that many people have a completely different idea about world events and what matters, about this quicksand of discussion on Fox News.

Non-news coverage was even more biased, naturally.  A program called The Five told me that criminals exist in direct proportion to broken homes.  This was somehow an obvious thing to blurt out in the coverage of three teenage boys severely battering a fourth teenage boy in a school bus, and the ethical question whether the 64-year-old bus driver should have intervened. 

Several of the Fox critters told that they would have stormed in to give the boys some real lessons and that the bus driver was a wuss for just calling the police and not physically intervening.  Based on the video showing the boys' muscular condition and size, my prediction is that the bus driver would have been killed had he tried to physically intervene.  But never mind.  At least two of the five members of the show stated that they would have stormed in.  That includes the female host of the show.

How cheap talk is.  But the most fascinating blurt-out was that thing about broken homes by Greg Gutfeld, given that I doubt he did research on the family backgrounds of any of the teens.

This teens-story also ran yesterday in the same program.  The final odd bias at Fox is the repetition of a few stories over and over again, as if nothing else happens in the world, as if those stories are the most important news items ever.

Scary stuff. 

I don't intend my criticisms to be only about Fox News, by the way.  It's always a good thing to follow several news organizations and at least one foreign source.  Otherwise we end up slowly sinking in the quicksand we make our sand castles of.  (Now that was a neat perfect-circle essay just slightly overdone!)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Katha Pollitt on Abortion in Europe

First read Katha Pollitt's discussion of the newest anti-choice idea:  That making abortion illegal after twenty weeks is AOK because those European countries do it.

When you have recovered from your surprise that anything those surrender monkeys in Europe do is worth quoting approvingly by the American forced-birthers (such as Ross Douthat), you might want to consider the fact that abortion is not the kind of "culture war" issue* in Europe as it is here.  As Katha writes:
And just because you’ve read this far: there are no screaming fanatics thrusting gory photos at you as you make your way to your abortion. No one takes down your license plate in the parking lot and calls you—or your parents—later with hateful messages. Doctors who perform abortions do not wear bulletproof vests, nor are they ostracized by their communities and shunned by other doctors. The whole climate of fear that makes many doctors reluctant to perform abortions and makes some women postpone going to the clinic does not exist.
And as Katha also writes, it's not that abortion is completely unavailable later in pregnancy, as is the desire of American forced-birthers:

Moreover, unlike the time limits passed in Texas and some other states, or floating around in Congress, the European limits have exceptions, variously for physical or mental health, fetal anomaly or rape. Contrast that with what anti-choicers want for the United States, where Paul Ryan memorably described a health exception to a proposed late-term abortion ban as “a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it.” If a French or German or Swedish 12-year-old, or a traumatized rape victim, or a woman carrying a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease shows up after the deadline, I bet a way can often be found to quietly take care of them. If not, Britain or the Netherlands, where second trimester abortion is legal, are possibilities. (In 2011, more than 4,000 Irish women traveled to Britain for abortions.)
At the same time, Europe is not one homogeneous place.  It's a conglomerate of countries with different histories, languages, cultures and even religions.  Different European countries have different abortion policies and different abortion rates:
 Abortion is complicated, like everything that has to do with sex. Germany’s abortion rate is much lower than ours, but Sweden’s is almost the same. The Netherlands is almost as low as Germany, despite permitting abortion much later. In much of Italy, it’s hard to find an abortion because so many doctors refuse to perform them—and yet Italy, like Germany, has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. One thing seems pretty clear, though: all these countries have plenty of abortions. But in the Western European countries with time limits, there is less need for second trimester abortion because there is far better access to abortion earlier.
While the 2008 abortion rate for Sweden was 21.3 (measured as the number of abortions per 1000 women between the ages of 15 and 44), the rates for Norway, Denmark and Finland in that same year were 14.5, 15.0 and 8.9, respectively.  As both Norway and Denmark allow abortion on demand in the early weeks of the pregnancy (and the same is true in practice in Finland), the difference cannot be explained by more liberal Swedish laws. The Nordic countries are very similar in economic and demographic respects, so the higher Swedish rate cannot be attributed to economic or general cultural differences either. **

What's my point here?  Perhaps to remind us that international comparisons are complicated, that sex is complicated, as Katha notes, and that taking something like abortion out to be studied in complete isolation has its problems.   

*I hatehatehate the term "culture wars". It sounds like arguments about tea vs. coffee or flower arranging or poetry or musical taste, like something less important than economics, even though it is about the lives of people just as seriously as are economic wars.

**I haven't been able to figure out the reason for the relatively high Swedish rate.  I read somewhere that the contraceptive pill has been less popular in Sweden.  If that's true it could explain the higher abortion rate as a consequence of less reliable contraception.  But I was unable to find statistics on this.  Other explanations are possible, of course.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Fewer and Fewer Women Are Entering the Labor Force?

That's part of the title of a Slate post by Matthew Yglesias (he probably didn't choose the title).  The rest of it is "America is Leaning Out."

It's fun to parse those kinds of titles.  This one uses both a link to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean-In movement and a type of exaggeration: "fewer and fewer women are entering the labor force."  The doubling of "fewer" implies continuous diminution.  The Sheryl Sandberg linkage implies that the women "choose" not to be in the labor force, in a manner opposite to "choosing" to do well in one's career or job.

But the research the post discusses has nothing to do with either of these suggestions.

It has to do with the rates of labor market entry and exit after an earlier recession and after the most recent one, and tells us nothing about continuous diminution of women's labor market participation rates or the reasons for the figures the researchers found. 

The authors of that study use two tables to argue that it's reduced labor market entry by women in the lowest age categories which is the major cause of the falling labor market participation rate in the US.  I reproduce the second table here.  It shows entry rates by age groups and separately for men and women:

The caption at the bottom of the table must be wrong.  It applies to the first table in the research paper, about labor market exit.   The proper caption should probably be "the percentage of people in labor force who were not in it four months earlier."

The crucial data, for the purposes of the post's title, has to do with what is going on in the younger age groups (up to age 54, even).  Women's entry into labor force after the most recent recession is lower than after the 2002-2003 recession, while men's entry in the younger age categories is slightly higher or the same as in 2002-2003.

This is all the data tells us, by the way.  It doesn't tell us what caused those differences.  To discuss them is speculation, ranging from the possibility that women are more likely to choose education at younger ages than men (thus leaving the labor force temporarily or delaying their first entry) to the possibility that women are "choosing" to stay at home with their children while men are "choosing" to enter the labor force.

The comments to the Yglesias post have the usual MRAs telling us that women naturally prefer to stay at home and that at least this gives the poor unemployed men a better chance to fulfill their god-given male role and so on.  But if the reason is that women choose more education, the MRAs could tell us that women are hogging all the good spots in colleges and so on.  They are a gift that keeps on giving.  And yes, I know I should not read comments.

It's worth pointing out that the study (which is not given in much detail in the pdf I linked to) is a comparison of the aftermath of two recessions.  It's not about the general labor market participation rates of women and men in general.  In that sense the information it conveys is much more limited and cannot be used for the kind of emotional arguments the title suggests.

Because the debate abstracts away from that contest it fails to ask what might be different between the 2002-2003 recession and the most recent one.  For example, could it be the case that female dominated occupations are simply not hiring as much after the most recent one, compared to the earlier one?  And if that is the case (say, because of the belt-tightening of health care and education industries), could it not be the case that women are more likely to find their job search fruitless and therefore more likely not to try entry or re-entry into the labor force?

I don't know the answer to that.  But focusing only on the supply side of labor is probably insufficient.  The demand side matters, too, and women and men are still largely working in different types of jobs and industries.