Saturday, November 16, 2013

Extraordinary Women in Science. Florence Nightingale.

This is a fascinating article about a new exhibition which offers information about the lives and work of 32 female scientists of the past.  I feel the urge to write a post about this partly because of that comment from a misogynist I talked about in a prior post:

Woman are subhumans. The world was a better place when they had the same rights as slaves.

Some are intelligent, some are strong, some are hard working.

But all of them are emotionally instable and not able to rationally decide when it matters. Therefore they should do what their men (fathers, brothers, husbands) tell them.

And yes, I know that the vast, vast majority of men and women do not regard women that way.  But during my life I have heard the argument of women's lesser intellectual capacity (though usually in more sophisticated forms) too many times to count, and it is to combat those messages that I wish to highlight women's intellectual achievements.  Because the stereotypes hurt both girls and boys.  (So this is not (my dear MRAs) yet another feminazi post about why only women's issues matter.  Nobody debates the ability of men to do science.  If they did, I would write about that false stereotype.)

If you read the article in the link, you might notice both the resistance these women faced AND the support and mentorship they received.  History is often quite complicated.

And also in other ways than the frequent simplification of removing either the opposition or the supporters from the story (or both, as in the idea that "women were given the vote").  Take, for instance the way this article begins:

Florence Nightingale, a statistician?

Yes, she was, though she was self-taught in that field (for fairly obvious reasons).  Indeed, one could argue that she spent the most of her life on topics based on statistics, such as the best way to build hospitals, the needs of India for certain types of health care and so on.  That this is not better known is because of the way the Nightingale myth was created (during her lifetime):  She was "the lady with the lamp."  the caring and kind and semi-angelic figure willing to go and take care of soldiers in the Crimean war, despite herself coming from the upper classes and being but a frail woman.  She then became ill herself and spent the rest of her life (many decades!) languishing on her bed.

That myth then produced both exaggerations and the expected critiques of her actual role.  But all of those were responses to they Nightingale myth, not the woman herself.

Much of her political work to change things gets shrouded in that, and so does most of her later life.  She had considerably power, through her ability to make the powers-that-be to listen to her, and those bed-ridden decades were almost all spent in ardent work.

On The Traditional Division of Labor Between Men And Women and The Religious Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage. The Secret Link!

A conservative religious site quotes a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan on one of the most central reasons why conservative religious people are opposed to same-sex marriage:

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the public face of the Russian Orthodox Church, says the continued relevance and existence of the WCC depends on how effectively it addresses challenges facing Christians throughout the world. He identifies two major challenges: militant secularism and radical Islamism. These challenges, he says, threaten Christian civilization and the essential nature of the human person. He says:

Countries that offer legal recognition to homosexual couples are “…taking a serious step towards the destruction of the very concept of marriage and family.” Traditional gender roles with the mother as “the guardian of the domestic hearth” and the father  as the “educator of his children in being social responsible” are being undermined. He condemned politicians who endorse same-sex marriage and legalized abortion as “pronouncing upon their peoples a death sentence” as their policies lead  to an inevitable demographic crisis.

There you have it, in a nutshell, and this is how the treatment of same-sex marriage links to the core of  feminism.  How can we pick the "guardian of the domestic hearth" if not by genitals???

Though that idea of the father as the "educator of his children in being social responsible" is most likely a euphemism for the father being the head of the household,  the sole breadwinner of the family and the one who is expected to dole out punishments.

All this also links to the crudest type of evolutionary psychology (the kind I usually denote by Evolutionary Psychology), which is equally based on the "essential nature of the human person."

Except that in both thought patterns (religions?) women are stipulated to be innately more suited to guarding the hearth than men.  It's like that drawing of mine where "human beings" is a main category and the category "women" dangles below it with no comparable category for "men."

What's very sad for the conservative religious insistence of women's proper role (in the kitchen, at home) is that the traditional gender roles are economically very difficult to sustain.  For example, a British study recently found that:

Households with a lone breadwinner, traditionally consisting of a working man and a stay-at-home mother, are the biggest group living in poverty in Britain – according to new research.
The work, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, shows that a third of the 1.3 million families with children living in poverty are "single breadwinner couple families". There are half that number of two-earner families living in poverty.

This makes logical sense, though I have not read the study itself.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Today's YouTube Comments Picks and an Article on Internet Harassment Worth Reading

From the comments to a video about some Stirling University lads loudly singing a song in a public bus.  A very funny sexist joke the song is  and the lads were just having fun and horrible feminazis are trying to limit the freedom of speech.

The comments were astro-turfed*  by MRAs I think.  Whether Person A in the next exchange (about whether the song is an example of rape culture)  is one of them or just a garden variety misogynist is hard to know.  But pay attention to the way he defines his hatred of feminism as based on his contempt towards women:

Person A:
Rape culture doesn't exist you fucking whore.
Person A, to Person B who asked about the use of the term "fucking whore."

All feminists are fucking whores. I don't need to "suss out" the truth, I'm not a leftist.
 Person B:
Person A, you sound like a bright chap - what are the characteristics of a "fucking whore?"
Person A answers the question:
A person who uses their body for monetary gain, either directly, such as sex for direct payment, or through more discrete means. Feminists us their natural ability as women to nag and ignore logic to recieve special treatment.

There ya go!  All is now explained.

Reading the comments (yes, yes, I know and will get back on the wagon right away) is extremely hilarious!  I was laughing so hard my tummy now hurts, because many of the comments argue that there's nothing wrong with the chant, that it's just a bit of fun and not at all misogynist or sexist or rapish and they do that by calling those who got "butthurt" by the song soft twats and cunts!

The logic, it kills me.  Then there was this comment (spelling mistakes retained) by Person (perhaps a person) C:

Woman are subhumans. The world was a better place when they had the same rights as slaves.

Some are intelligent, some are strong, some are hard working.

But all of them are emotionally instable and not able to rationally decide when it matters. Therefore they should do what their men (fathers, brothers, husbands) tell them.

The same  commenter (Person C)  also wrote that one other person commenting is:

a fat ugly loser femnazi who can't handle free speech. It's idiots like you that are destroying FREEDOM in the West and turning our countries into police states. You are a disgrace to the human race.

The point?  Other than some odd masochistic streak in me that makes me read this shit?  The connection between the hatred of feminists and the hatred of women.

This article is worth reading on issues of the above type.  These types of comments are not just among the bottom mud crawlers of YouTube, but appear in the email inboxes of women who happen to be academics or politicians or otherwise in the public eye.  What such comments share is the use of identity (gender, race, sexual preference)  as the basis for the slur without any actual discussion of the ideas that provoked the anger so expressed.
*Used here in the sense that a large number of comments probably originated in a call on some manosphere site.


Odd Bedfellows. On Muslim Immigration to Europe and Reactions To It.

A few nights ago I somehow drifted onto various far-right European sites.  They are very explicitly against Muslim immigration (and immigration of Africans).  But if you read among the dregs long enough, you also find that they are, miracle of miracles!, quite opposed to feminism.  Many of them argue that it is the effeminate culture of Europe (some women in Parliaments, I guess, and too many girls getting college degrees) which has made Europe such an easy peach to pick for incomers.

Those two trends are odd bedfellows, from a purely neutral angle.  This is because the same sites employ arguments about the position of women in the strictest interpretations of sharia laws in Islam to justify their opposition to more Muslim immigration: female genital mutilation (not religiously sanctioned), burqas and niqabs, the inability of women to be judges, that a female witness's statement in court is worth less than a male witness's assertion, the near-impossibility of ever finding a man guilty of rape (because of the requirement of four male witnesses) and the consequent treatment of many rape victims as adulterers who deserve severe physical punishment.

But all those things should be like whipped cream on top of a cake for the kind of anti-feminist who is worried about the state of heterosexual  men's relative standing in the current European society!  "False" rape accusations  would be history under such a scenario!  Women wouldn't be competing for jobs that much anymore!  Men would be the kings of creation!  Converting for the sake of all that wouldn't really change how the heterosexual man must dress or behave.  The perks of modernity and the perks of patriarchy!

The second set of odd bedfellows in some ways is on the other side of this issue.  Some multi-cultural interpretations of how immigrants should be treated in their new host countries look to me like a juggler trying to keep fifteen balls in the air simultaneously.  These interpretations argue for equal human rights for all but also for equal rights for all religions and cultures within the country. The problem with that combination is that the two sets of rights, human and religious, offer formidable contradictions in the case of women in general and in the case of LGBT people, too.

That is because the three large Abrahamic religions in their writings tell women that men are their superiors, that committing homosexual acts or adultery (for women, at least)  is punishable by stoning to death,  that women have more restrictions on their behavior (women must be silent in the congregation, say) than men and so on and so on.

A literal interpretation* of a fundamentalist type of any of the three religions results in a female Catch-22 for feminist multi-culturalists** simply because very few (if any) cultures are truly feminist and many cultures of the recent immigrants to Europe are very patriarchal.  Supporting the right of religions to tell their flocks that men are superior to women and that women should restrict their behaviors more than men clashes directly and openly with the idea of gender-equality.  At the same time, supporting gender-equality clashes directly with the traditions and mores of many cultures and religions,including some of those of recent immigrants to Europe.

Do you see what I mean by "odd bedfellows?"  Of course all that is because the angle I adopted is not the one that is actually used by the two sides here.  To simplify a bit, the far right in Europe seems to be largely supported by white men.  They will fight anything that they regard as an attack on their position as the top roosters (whether real or imaginary) on the rubbish heap.  Both immigrants, Muslim or not, and women threaten that top position.  Thus, it's not illogical that the views on those sites manage to accept both a certain type of misogyny and explicit Islamophobia,  partly justified as a response to the misogynist streaks in Islam.

Turning to the other side of the equation, the reason for those fifteen balls being juggled in the air is a kind of a mirror image to the previous argument.  The feminist multi-culturalists want to improve the position of the oppressed, those who are marginalized, those are who are treated poorly and discriminated against.  Both women and recent immigrants qualify in some of those categories, so both groups deserve their support and promotion.

But the fact remains that the two motives can result in mutually exclusive choices***.  At least one of the balls in the air must fall.

What is the solution to these contradictions?  It obviously depends how a particular person weighs religious rights and human rights.  But one interesting proposal is something that is called "liberal multi-culturalism" in Finnish.  It seems to be a concept which supports, say,  religious freedom as long as that religious freedom does not infringe on equal rights of individuals.  When it must make a choice between gender justice (or justice for LGBT people, say) and religious rights it will choose the former.
*How common literal interpretations are varies with religion and within religions.  It is my impression (based on all I've been able to read, hear or watch) that Islam is interpreted more literally and also somewhat more politically than, say, Christianity, except for the Christian right in the US.  But this interpretation varies widely, from imam to imam, almost.  Some countries with the sharia law apply it strictly, others more liberally.  But I know of no such application where, say, women and men have exactly the same divorce rights.
**The definition of this term isn't terribly clear, if it even exists.  I use it to denote those institutions and individuals who believe both in gender equality and in the equality of cultures and religions.
***Obvious examples are religious practices which explicitly discriminate against women (or men) on the one hand  and gender-equality on the other hand.  You support religious freedom and the former, you then don't support the latter.  And vice versa.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Trivial Thought For The Day

The way I write is now called long-form writing.  We need a name for it because of phenomena such as Twitter and the general requirement to hook the readers in and then whack them on the head with one thought and then release them.

But then I often want to read short and succinct writing rather than long rambles, too.

Mavis Batey 1921-2013

Mavis Batey's obituary in the UK Telegraph tells that she was one of the people working on breaking the German codes during WWII:

Mavis Batey, who has died aged 92, was one of the leading female codebreakers at Bletchley Park, cracking the Enigma ciphers that led to the Royal Navy’s victory at Matapan, its first fleet action since Trafalgar.
She was the last of the great Bletchley “break-in” experts, those codebreakers who found their way into new codes and ciphers that had never been broken before.
Mavis Batey also played a leading role in the cracking of the extraordinarily complex German secret service, or Abwehr, Enigma. Without that break, the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of the D-Day landings could never have gone ahead.

Her later life's work included the preservation of conversation of British gardens.

Here's how "knowing stuff" sometimes works for me, and I suspect, for others, too.  I was aware of the fact that women did all sorts of jobs during WWII that they wouldn't have done before.  I even knew that the code-breakers included women. 

But the impact of individual women on history of this type?  It tends to disappear in an odd way.

That needs an explanation.  I don't think that the erasure is usually intentional or even subconsciously sexist.  I think it has to do with the summary aspect of history:  Whole epochs are condensed into what a few people on the top achieved or damaged or affected.  The rest of the actors only appear in detailed studies of the epoch.  So when history is taught in that summary format women are more likely to disappear than men because they were much less likely to be on top.

What do you think of that theory, eh?  Probably many have proposed it already, but I'm far too busy and lazy to try to verify or falsify it. 

Based on that idea, someone like Elizabeth I of England seems to suddenly crop up in history books.  A female ruler!  So few of them!  What made her special? 

It's not that she wasn't special, of course.  But if we summarize history by listing a few people for each epoch, lots of people with some impact, influence or power will be made invisible.  And naturally the vast masses of people are invisible.  Or rather, generalizations about social classes and races and so on can be presented but individual stories are very rare.

To return to the disappearance of individual women, take another example from Britain: Jane Austen.  If you don't study the eighteenth century women writers in that country, her sudden appearance looks anomalous, something like a comet flashing across the sky.  And I think the reason for that, too, is that the many female writers of the preceding century are cut out of condensed history of literature, because they were not among the handful regarded as the very best (with perhaps the exception of Aphra Benn).  Which leaves us with less understanding of how women wrote (or broke codes or brewed beer or made clothing etc.)

More on the Bechdel Test. And Meet The Smurfette Principle.

Alison Bechdel talks here about how this "test" came about and what she owes to Virginia Woolf in creating it.  For those of you who don't know what the Bechdel Test for a movie is, here it goes:

1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
The Bechdel test is not a real statistical test, and the recent proposal of some Swedish movie theaters to use it does NOT have any government force behind it. Neither does the failing of the test lead to any consequences.

The Bechdel test is just one tiny way of looking at the dearth of women-as-human-beings in popular movies, and it has obvious flaws:  A misogynist movie could pass the Bechdel test, a feminist movie could fail it.  Many classical movies would fail it, because the invisibility of women as a part of the world was more accepted than it is today.

But nobody is seriously proposing that the only way a movie could be judged from the "women-are-full-human-beings" angle is via the Bechdel test.  And as nothing happens to movies which don't "pass" it, I was utterly and totally flabbergasted when I read the comments to the initial Guardian story about Sweden and the Bechdel test.

Almost a thousand comments, and a big chunk of them* are cries of anger, outrage and fear about  the test (which is not really a test at all but rather a principle).  The usual argument is that this is the nanny-state stepping in, this is a feminist plot to soon introduce quotas and ban all the tough-guy movies, that this is sexist because the reverse Bechdel test isn't required.

By all means, let's introduce that reverse Bechdel test for a movie!  The more the merrier! It would be this:

1. It has to have at least two [named] men in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a woman.
What percentage of movies do you think would fail this reverse Bechdel test?  Heh. My guess is that such movies would be quite hard to find, compared to movies which fail the straightforward Bechdel test.  Because the role of men in the majority of movies is not to be just the love interest of the main female star of the show.  (All this is about heterosexual roles in movies.)

I found the outrage (both in numbers and quality) in the Guardian comments unexpected and bizarre, because of this:

According to a study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, of the 100 most successful films at box office in 2012, just 28.4 per cent of the 4475 speaking characters were female. This is a drop from 32.8 per cent in 2009.  


Perhaps more worrying is the way those actresses who do have speaking parts are styled. Nearly a third, 32.6 per cent, of the female characters who spoke had sexually revealing clothes, the highest percentage in the five years the survey has been compiled. 

This percentage jumps for teenage girls, where over half (56.6 per cent) were dressed provocatively: a 20 per cent increase on 2007.  

The survey reflected wider trends in the film industry, in particular the number of female filmmakers, directors, writers and producers. Women made up just 16.7 per cent of the 1,228 involved in the 100 highest-grossing films.

Any move, even the most slowly creeping one, from this towards something closer to fifty percent was regarded as the final takeover by feminazis in those comments!  As the most heinous infringement of artistic freedom!  As a blatantly unfair and hideously sexist plot!

Here's a fine example of such comments:

The 'test' is pure bunk. Why would anybody wish to see an irrelevant dialogue between 2 unnecessary female characters for 1 minute that does not include reference to the main character, which in a large number of cases is male? It's poor story telling, flabbly editing and completely irrelevant to most sane people.

Mmm.  Pass me the garage door for kicking.

Many of the other comments argued that the markets have spoken, that the markets don't want to see women except as sexual partners of the male stars, and that if some feminazis are so bothered about all this then they can buy their own movie studios and make their own movie industry and then their own movies.  And besides, what's so bad about a little bit of gender inequality? 

Don't you just love this?  I got a kick from it all, because it made me realize what the time preceding women's suffrage must have been like for those fighting for the vote.

The point of the Bechdel test is to remind us that women in movies could be fully-fledged human beings. So from that point of view the rage in those comments was pretty instructive.

On the other hand, so  was the comment picked by the Guardian editors as furthering the debate:

When I was a teacher I noticed that short stories, novels, poems etc were not of much interest to the majority of male students if the central characters, or any characters of significance for that matter , were female. On the other hand, female students were able to be equally engaged regardless of the gender of the main characters. Why this is was not easily discernable. I suspected that it had to do with the relationship each of us has to power, even in fictional situations, and readers simply have more fascination with characters they assume will be able to affect change or be the 'heros' in the final outcome.....
If this is the case, perhaps the outraged men among the commentariat were scared that they would be deprived of their super-heroes?  And if this is the case among young male students, what is it caused by?

Is this something innate?  To go with the idea that the female heroes don't do guy stuff and that only guy stuff appeals to boys?  But if that's the case, why should girls not make the mirroring choices?  And would a female hero doing guy stuff make boys more interested?

Or is it based on the young boys and girls already having learned the correct pecking order of the sexes?   The latter is supported by girls' seeming ability to identify with a male protagonist. After all, if men are above women, it's not so terribly hard for a girl to reach upwards and to identify with a male protagonist, whereas it would be much harder for boys to reach down and identify with a female protagonist.

All those are just questions.

To return to the Guardian comments,  I wonder what all the outraged voices would have said if someone had insisted that they not only try to understand the Bechdel test (and many others in the comments did try to correct the misunderstandings) but also get the Smurfette principle.  This

In 1991 writer and cultural critic Katha Pollitt coined the phrase “The Smurfette Principle” to draw attention to the tendency for movies, TV shows, and other cultural products to include one, and just one female (source). For the unfamiliar, The Smurfs was a children’s television show, airing from 1981 to 1989, populated by a whole world of little blue men and one (sexy) blue woman...

I'd like to expand the Smurfette principle a little, in that many movies and television shows (and even political panel discussions) might have more than one woman but nowhere near the percentage of women that reality happens to have.

Which is roughly one half.  It's as if whoever does the creating of these movies or television shows tries to count out the minimum number of roles that must be filled with women, perhaps because those roles are viewed as "playing woman, " whereas other roles are viewed as "playing warriors, funny people, scientists, evil people" and so on.  Once "woman" is regarded in those terms, as essentially the whole description and requirement of the role, the Smurfette principle automatically follows.

I should spend some time studying the movie industry to understand why the main market for all movies seems to be teenage boys.  It was not always so.  What happened to the market to change it like that?  Are the other markets (young women, older men and women)  content with not having different types of movies?  What role does the disposable income of young teenage boys and girls have to do with it?  Who chooses the movies?  Do we have to have these simplistic genres of Rambos on the one hand and Twilight on the other hand?  Where are movies for adults?
*The comments are not all full of outrage.  The other side did pretty well in them.  But I was still absolutely surprised by the large number of people who thought this whole proposal was horrible.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For The Ten-Year Blogoversary: Thoughts Three

I'm still celebrating my one decade of blogging.  Celebrating may not be the best word,  because though it IS a party (for one, inside my brain, hear the drums!),  my thinking about the meaning of the universe (not 42) and the role of writing of this type is in turmoil. 

After Blogger made it possible for me to see which posts are read a lot and which are read less and after those recommend-buttons were added I spotted something a bit disconcerting:  The posts that do by far the best (read* by a thousand or more) are not the feminist posts but the economic posts.

Add to that the fact that I get almost no aggro for those, whereas the more explicitly feminist blogs have the danger of both outside aggro and circular firing squads, and I have started wondering if I should change what I write about.  There's no money, either way (though you can still send me blogoversary presents), and both fields have lots of stuff to dig.  But one field is full of hidden mines, the other a nice open meadow with perhaps just a few irate bulls and cows.  Also, I'm trained in economics.  My training in feminism is not a formal one though equally extensive.

Sigh.  The world is thankless, thankless I say.  Joking.  Except there's a bit of truth in that joke.
*I'm not sure if someone just reading the front page is counted as reading a particular post or if the person must come in via a link to that person or click on the comments or something similar.

Does the Boss's Gender Matter? Gallup Results for 2013.

Gallup has come out with the newest version of a survey it has conducted since 1953.  This is a questionnaire about the gender of boss people prefer.   The options are to prefer a male boss, a female boss or not to have a preference.

This graph (click it to enlarge)  shows the overall development since 1953:

Note the fairly clear change between 1974 and 1980.  That's the second wave effect, I think.

The 2013 survey tells us that the plurality (40%) don't have a preference to the gender of their boss.  Thirty-five percent prefer a male boss and 23% a female boss. 

But here's the interesting aspect of the findings:  Women express a higher preference for a male boss than men do.  While 29% of men would prefer a male boss in a hypothetical situation where they could choose their boss by gender, 40% of women would prefer a man as the boss in that situation.  (Eighteen percent of men and 27% of women would pick a female boss, the rest have no preference.)

Given the fairly large preference expressed by women for a male boss, I wanted to understand where it comes from.  For example, are older women more likely to have this preference than younger women?

The 2013 survey summary doesn't present data by both gender and age, but the same survey in 2011 did.  Here is the relevant table (click it to enlarge):

As I suspected, it is older women who have the greatest preference for a male boss, perhaps due to the cultural messages they received while growing up.   Younger women in 2011 showed a much reduced preference for a male boss and are slightly more likely to prefer a female boss than a male one.

Analyzing data of this sort is complicated by the fact that male bosses are more common than female bosses and there are probably quite a few people who have never had a female boss.  Thus, they are asked to make a choice about something for which they have insufficient information.  The Gallup survey speculates that the " no preference" category might get more common as female bosses become more common. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Today's Study on Exercise During Pregnancy

This is a Canadian study which seems to be quite widely disseminated in the popular media.  It's about pregnancy and exercise:

In what is being described as the first study of its kind in humans, University of Montreal researchers found that the brains of babies born to women who exercised moderately throughout their pregnancies appeared to mature more rapidly.
Eight-day-old newborns had brains as active as those of eight-month-olds.
The findings suggest that 20 minutes of exercise, three times a week, enhances a baby’s brain development and its “plasticity,” meaning the ability to make new connections, according to research to be presented Monday at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, Calif.

The study divided pregnant women into two groups, both roughly equal in education, health habits and socioeconomic status.  One group were assigned moderate exercise, the other one was told to be sedentary.

Now, I have not read the study, and have no medical expertise to judge its validity or spot errors in it in general.  But here's something which should truly make people be a bit more careful in their popularizations:

For the study, 18 women in their second trimester of pregnancy were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a sedentary group. Ten women in the exercise group were asked to exercise a minimum of 20 minutes, three times a week, at a moderate intensity that would leave them feeling slightly short of breath. The eight women in the sedentary group were asked not to exercise.

Those samples are very, very tiny.  I'm rather worried about the way the findings are discussed, given that such small samples could easily be influenced by pure chance events.

Being skeptical about the way these studies are sold is necessary even when it looks like common sense to assume that it's good for healthy women (and their fetuses) to move during their pregnancies (just as it's good for healthy men and women to exercise in general).  That's what human women have done all through the centuries, barring specific ill-health or conditions which would make exercise inadvisable.

Still, these are not the reasons why I write about this piece.  The reason is in that gender-political smell which often accompanies articles about maternal effects on children:  The presumption that all women try to avoid the "right" thing and must be coerced into it:

The team hopes the findings will encourage women “to change their health habits, given that the simple act of exercising during pregnancy could make a difference in their child’s future,” said lead author Dr. Dave Ellemberg, a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Montreal.

Bolds are mine.  The bolded sentence ASSUMES that pregnant women need to change their health habits, that those women are not already in the habit of regular exercising.  What is this assumption based on?

Whatever that might be, it looks agreed upon that women don't exercise prior to their pregnancies and that they must be scolded into exercise by telling them how exercise could make a difference in their child's future!  That "changing their health habits" thingy.

I wonder if women were similarly scolded for moving at all when the medical profession told pregnant women not to do much anything during pregnancy.

What I describe here is subtle.  But I have spotted the same subtlety umpteen times in my archives.  The presumption is always, always, that all pregnant women are at the very brink of misbehaving in some way and must be lectured to.  It's as if the uterus is seen as hostile territory against which the fetus must be protected.

Monday, November 11, 2013

bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry

I recommend this wonderfully interesting video interview  of bell hooks by Melissa Harris-Perry on the evolution of black feminism in the US (and on race and racism and on lots of other things, actually).  It's ninety minutes well spent.

I just finished watching it myself, and I need a day or two to decide if I get the urge to write more about it*.  I loved much of the interaction between the two women and the  intricate and nuanced ideas they tossed up into the air.

*Partly because I didn't grow up in the US I really am an outsider when it comes to understanding the various sub-cultures, partly because the concepts of Othering and exclusion,  discussed in the interview, may have wider ramifications, to the extent we all use them in some form.  If we do, not sure about it yet.  What may matter more is where a particular excluder stands on the societal ladders.  Exclusion by someone without much power tends not to "stick."  But is the tendency universal of humans?

A Man Without Woman And Sex Is An Irate Wasp

Is there something like Comment Readers Anonymous?  A place where I could go, stand up and introduce myself as "I am Echidne and I still read newspaper net comments."

I badly need that.  The comments threads of even the better types of newspapers are full of hatred, anger and stupidity.  The last mentioned is especially irritating because it is not a form of sincere not-knowing, but an utter unwillingness to actually look at data, to read history or to study statistics.  The stupid person's statistics are picked on the basis of their gut feelings.

Even that would be OK.  What's not OK when all that comes together with racism, sexism, hatred of foreigners or you-name-it.

It's like wading in rotting corpses, to read that comment shit.

The "Science Column"

Anyway, I somehow started reading a so-called science column from last October at the website of Helsingin Sanomat, Finland's largest newspaper.   The story has the following headline: "Man Without Woman And Sex Is An Irate Wasp."  To give you a flavor of the story, this is how it begins (my translation):

Satutteko muistamaan, kun Aamulehti kirjoitti Norjan joukkomurhan jälkeen, että jos Breivik – ja Jokelan ja Kauhajoen koulusurmaajat – olisivat saaneet seksiä, murhenäytelmältä olisi ehkä vältytty? Kirjoitus nostatti järjettömän haloon, joka huomioitiin ulkomaita myöten, ja vastalauseet olivat kipakoita.
Tyypillinen vastine oli "just joo, nyt sitten joka tyttö vain jakamaan luuseripojille piparia, ettei heistä tule joukkomurhaajia".

My translation:
"Do you happen to remember how Aamulehti (another Finnish newspaper) wrote after the Norwegian mass murder that if Breivik --- and the school killers at Jokela and Kauhajoki (places in Finland) --- had gotten sex, maybe the tragedy could have been avoided?  That piece raised an incredible hullabaloo which was noticed even abroad, and counterarguments were angry.

A typical resonse was "Just so, now every girl is then obligated to share the gingerbread with loser boys so that they don't become mass murderers."

The author of the column, Jani Kaaro, then says that such political correctness is very sad among the Finns because there's a lot of truth in that statement.  Men who don't get sex also don't get a family, children and all the restraints on bad behavior those contribute.  Single men are a danger to the health of the rest of the society.

So let's stop here, for a moment, and ask what evidence there is that the named mass murderers "got" no sex or what evidence there is that it was the possible lack of nookie which made them killers.

Let's also notice here that by looking at not "getting" sex or wives or girlfriend as the possible cause of heterosexual male violence (rather than, say, one of its consequences), the onus IS indeed put on women.   Or rather, women are seen as a commodity (sex slot machines), and the inadequate distribution of such slot machines among the would-be players is the real problem behind some types of male violence.

A kinder interpretation is that the women are supposed to perform that "taming" role, to "civilize" men.

Great stuff, eh?  Note that there's nothing even faintly resembling science in any of this, so far.  Also note how the article has labeled men as essentially incapable of self-restraint, as being lead around by their penises, as, indeed, also a kind of slot machines:  If you don't put in pu**y, out comes violence.

So both men and women have been turned into extreme types of caricatures.  Neither men nor women have real agency.  Men, because they cannot control themselves and women, because they are a resource or a commodity.

Now comes the evidence for all this!  Wait for it:  The Wild West and its biased ratios of men and women.  Because Wild West (at least the television version of it) was a realm of men and violent, it must be the case that lack of sex and women (the two being treated as equal here)  is what caused high levels of male violence.

OK.  That's not really evidence.  So Kaaro next mentions the worrisome sex ratios in China, stating that 160 million girls were never born because of son preference.  (Take note of that sentence.)  He then notes that there are millions of men in Asia who will not "get" sex or wives because of this sex-ratio imbalance.

Kaaro hints that  those countries will become more violent.  There already are young, unmarried men there who get together to play war games and blow up home-made bombs!

The implication is that soon those war games will no longer be games:

Jotkut poliittiset kommentaattorit ovatkin todenneet, että suurin globaali turvallisuusuhka ei ole Lähi-idässä tai islamistisessa terrorissa, vaan näissä Aasian toimettomissa, yksinäisissä vanhoissapojissa, joilla ei ole mahdollisuutta koskaan päästä naimisiin. Heitä on helppo houkutella poliittisiin ääriliikkeisiin, ja tilanne on ihanteellinen myös vihanlietsonnalle. Jos agitaattori osoittaa jotakin ryhmää ja sanoo "he vievät meidän naisemme", helähtää se syvällä nuorten vanhojenpoikien sielussa. Historia ja demografia osoittavat, ettei ole kaukaa haettua yhdistää miesten väkivaltaisuutta seksuaalisten suhteiden puuttumiseen.
Tilanne ei ole yhtään sen ruusuisempi niille naisille, jotka ovat livahtaneet abortointiseulan lävitse. Esimerkiksi Vietnamissa on lukuisia kyliä, joissa ei ole ainoatakaan lisääntymisikäistä naista, koska heidät on myyty kirjemorsiamiksi Kiinaan tai salakuljetettu prostituoiduksi ulkomaille. Naisen voi saada, jos on rikas, mikä katkeroittaa välejä rikkaan ja köyhän kansanosan välillä. Myös katkeruus naisia kohtaan on kovaa siellä, missä toive naisesta on vain etäinen kangastus – miksi tavallinen maamies ei kelpaa naisille?

My translation:
Some political commentators have stated that the largest global security risk is not in Near East or in Islamic terrorism but in these Asian old bachelors who will never be able to marry.  They are easy to lure into political extremist movements, and the situation is also ideal for fanning the flames of hatred.  If an agitator points at some groups and says "they take our women," it will cause a deep response in the souls of these bachelors.

The situation isn't any rosier for those women who managed to slip through the abortion filter.  In Vietnam, for instance, numerous villages have no women in fertile age groups because they have been sold as mail-order brides to China or smuggled abroad for prostitution.  One can get a woman if one is rich.  This makes the relationship between the poor and the rich a bitter one.  Likewise, bitterness towards women is strong there where a hope for a woman is but a distant mirage --- why isn't an ordinary farmer good enough for women?

It's true that the imbalance in the sex ratios of several Asian countries is deeply problematic, with potentially bad consequences.  It's also true that the real tragedy here is the fact that the preference for sons equals a dislike of daughters, and that dislike comes directly from the societal gender norms.  And perhaps the greatest tragedy (though sorta not stressed by Kaaro) here is the fact that women seem to go from the frying pan into the fire (from shabby social standing to an interpretation of them as just for sex)  in these Asian countries.  As I have written earlier, the Korean solution to the beginning of a similar gender balance seemed to work and it did so by supporting the value of daughters and by improving the status of women in the society as well as by making sex selective abortions harder to get.

But Kaaro is not interested in the solutions to this Asian dilemma.  He seems to apply it to all men, apparently even Finnish men!  But before I look at that, note the Othering language in the last quote:  "One can get a woman if one is rich" etc.  The "one" in that quote has to be male, and Kaaro has neatly slid into writing for only half of humanity as relevant in the groups of the rich and the poor.

That's why I sense the story to be really about women as slot-machines for sex, with the demand that such machines should be more evenly distributed.

Kaaro's conclusions:

Historia ja demografia osoittavat, ettei ole kaukaa haettua yhdistää miesten väkivaltaisuutta seksuaalisten suhteiden puuttumiseen. Miehet, jotka ovat tippuneet avioliittomarkkinoiden ulkopuolelle, vailla oleellisia mahdollisuuksia vaikuttaa omaan tilanteeseensa, ovat kuin loppusyksyn äkäiset ampiaiset: kun kuningatar hylkää yhdyskuntansa, työläiset jäävät toimettomiksi, ja elämänsä keskipisteen ja motivaation menettäneenä niistä tulee arvaamattomia ja aggressiivisia.

My translation:

History and demography show that it is not far-fetched to connect men's violence with the absence of sexual relationships.  Men who have fallen below the marriage market level, without real chances to affect their own situation are like the irate wasps of late season:  when the queen rejects her community, the workers become unemployed and because they have lost the focus of their lives and motivations they become unpredictable and aggressive.

There you have it!  Men are like the worker-wasps (which are not male, as far as I understand it) and women are like the queen wasp who has rejected them by refusing to keep on laying eggs nonstop over the winter.

The metaphor is terrible.  But it is also very revealing.

Note that we have moved from mass murderers via Wild West (as shown by television and movies, at least) to Asian son preference and the problems those cause to --- what?  The possibility that all men who cannot find wives or "get sex" become unpredictable and aggressive.

This piece is a mess.  It's not science, because it combines all sorts of evidence and then applies it far beyond the scope for it.  It also continuously uses correlation as causation.  For instance, my guess is that men don't become mass murderers because they can't find girlfriends or wives.  Those men can't find girlfriends or wives because they are future mass murderers.  That's a more credible theory, even though it, too, is pulled out of my --- helmet.

And On Its Comments

I do go on here!  My apologies for it.  Perhaps some of you enjoy the analysis enough to justify it.  But mostly I'm writing this post because I'm so very irate!  Like a late-autumn wasp.

Then to the comments.  I read them because I was already ready to sting. And many of the comments didn't disappoint me.  Out of the 200+ comments only a handful understood what was bad about the article, and only another handful presented a feminist take (i.e., that women matter as persons, too).  Most of the comments took for granted that the problem is how to make sure that single men can "get" as much sex as they need in order to not become killers and how women can be made more willing to marry them or to have sex with them.

Thus, the proposals included supporting prostitution, even starting government subsidized brothels.  A few MRAs were out there writing about women's tendency to only marry "alpha-males" (a numerical impossibility unless "alpha-males" are interpreted as all married men), several people wrote about the "in-built" biological drive in women to marry only wealthy men (given that no such drive has been shown to exist and that women's assumed hypergamy can better be explained by the fact that women have had historically no other way to make their own living, outside prostitution, than through marriage.).

There were those who wanted all minimum quotas for women in high positions of power to be questioned, given that those would "marginalize" men.  The idea, I guess, is that women will only marry financially upwards, that all "marginalized" men are at the bottom of the societal heap and that the solution to this is to make sure that there are women beneath them.  In all meanings of that term.

The strongest impression I got from the comments is that the click-magnet headline worked:  The focus was largely on physical sexual intercourse and how to get more of it to the "marginalized men."  Several comments did point out that the problem (if there is one, outside Asia and perhaps the Middle East) is probably more about rootlessness and loneliness than physical sex.  But even those stopped short of asking what it is about the men without partners which might contribute to their problems.  Instead, that part was replaced by the idea that women only marry "up" and that marrying "up" has nothing to do with a man who is willing to share parenting and everyday chores and not just incomes.  Traditional sex roles and evolutionary psychology, in short.

Oh, the Pickup Artists cropped up, too.  According to them ANY woman can just wait and then decide which of the many, many offers she wishes to accept.  There are no such terms as "wall flowers" or "spinsters" in their world.  All women are "alpha-women", I presume.

Then More Seriously

It is not my intention to imply that the men in China and India who will never find wives somehow deserve their fates or that there isn't a correlation between single status and violence in men (though some of it is probably caused by the correlation between violence and youth on the one hand and youth and singleness on the other hand).  But that correlation does not tell us anything about causation.  Men who are violent and dysfunctional in society may be unable to find a partner because they are violent and dysfunctional.  That's an equally likely theory, though the causality might go in both directions at the same time.

I also think that all this is a good example of the ills of patriarchy for men, too.  The gender imbalance in China, India and Azerbaijan is because families want sons rather than daughters, and that, in turn, is because families are patriarchal, marriages are patrilocal and the view of family is based on the male line.  All this is exacerbated by lack of pensions and other forms of social safety net and the tradition to find those in one's adult sons, not in one's adult daughters.  And it is her husband's elderly parents that a Chinese woman is expected to care for.  It's easy to see why daughters are not greatly wanted.  But those customs can be changed.  Some slight signs of a more natural sex ratio in China are already evident*.

Likewise, the disgruntled young single men in the Middle East are that way because of the bad economic situation but also because of the tradition that women shouldn't work outside the home.  Given that tradition, men must be able to earn enough on their own to support both a wife and any future children.  The disapproval of dating and pre-marital sex worsens this situation further.

But how any of this relates to single men in general or single men in the Western countries is something the article left very unclear.  It was, of course, intended as clickbait.  But I don't think a
"science" column should be so low-brow and so open to various kinds of sexisms.

Sigh.  I shouldn't pour buckets of text on something that appeared a month ago and in a different language.  But someone has to clean out the crap.
*One interesting argument about why we see these changes (other than government attempts to raise the valuation of girls etc.) is that the correction is a consequence of the imbalance in the sex ratios itself.  Once prospective parents realize that a son might never be able to find a wife, but a daughter might fairly easily find a husband, the Confucian desire to continue the family raises the value of a daughter somewhat.  But the Confucian philosophy still places men above women.

Speed-Blogging Monday, November 11, 2013: On guns and mothers in Texas and on suffragettes

1.  In Texas:

On Saturday, nearly 40 armed men, women, and children waited outside a Dallas, Texas area restaurant to protest a membership meeting for the state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun safety advocacy group formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
According to a spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action (MDA), the moms were inside the Blue Mesa Grill when members of Open Carry Texas (OCT) — an open carry advocacy group — “pull[ed] up in the parking lot and start[ed] getting guns out of their trunks.” The group then waited in the parking lot for the four MDA members to come out. The spokeswoman said that the restaurant manager did not want to call 911, for fear of “inciting a riot” and waited for the gun advocates to leave. The group moved to a nearby Hooters after approximately two hours.

Check out the picture at the link.

2.  Also in Texas, Tammy Cooper was arrested for child endangerment and had to spend eighteen hours in jail because one of her neighbors had called the police stating that her children were playing outside the house without adult supervision.  The charges were later dropped as baseless.  Cooper says that she was outside, sitting in a chair on the sidewalk.

The odd point about this story is that looks like you might not get arrested for shooting people who arrive at your door asking for help after a car accident, and you certainly don't seem to get arrested for being a white-collar crook in the stock markets or in the housing markets.

I get that children need supervision.  But children have been playing outside unsupervised, probably for centuries.  Even if Cooper had let her children to play alone outside, what that would have meant is in no way comparable to the kinds of crime suspicions which get no real reaction from the police.

You can draw your own conclusions about the reason for the rapid police response.  It certainly has much to do with the idea that mothers are the only ones responsible for children and that the only standard of good mothering is perfection.  And note that Cooper's husband only appears in a photograph in this story.  It's about mothering.

3.  Finally, and just because it is interesting, check out this early 20th century photograph opposing women's suffrage.  It shows what the society feared might happen!  Which sorta did, of course, but the edifices of civilization are still standing.

You may have seen another picture showing a humiliated husband wearing an apron, sitting in the kitchen with a squalling baby in his lap, while his suited and cigarette-smoking wife is preparing to go out to vote.  I always loved that picture because of the inner fears  it reveals:  A role reversal!  Men would have to accept the kinds of lives many women then  had and women would get to have the good lives some men then had.

Voting couldn't do it and suffragettes didn't aim at anything of the sort.  But it's true that giving people the vote provides them with some power in a society, and that can be frightening to some.

A Texas mother was sent to jail and charged with child endangerment for letting her two children play outside.

A Texas mother was sent to jail and charged with child endangerment for letting her two children play outside.
A Texas mother was sent to jail and charged with child endangerment for letting her two children play outside.

A Texas mother was sent to jail and charged with child endangerment for letting her two children play outside.
A Texas mother was sent to jail and charged with child endangerment for letting her two children play outside.