Saturday, April 26, 2014

Funny Stuff For Saturday: How To Review A Book You Haven't Yet Read, Philosophical Advice About Life And Being A Multi-Lingual

1.  I love Megan McArdle's beginning sentence in her book review of Thomas Piketty's book about wealth inequality*:
I apologize in advance, because I am going to talk about a book that I have not yet read.
It's very charmingly meta-meta criticism, and makes me feel much less guilty about the few times I've discussed a study based on nothing but its abstract and summaries by others.

2.  You know those little deeply philosophical sentences which are intended to make you feel clearer and better about your life?  Many of them are helpful, but sometimes my nastier side enjoys them for wrong reasons.  For example, I recently read this one:

Don't let other people bring you down. Be your own advocate.
Then there's the one of "having to face your worst fears by just doing whatever you fear the most."  Depending on what you fear the most this could result in some very final recommendations.  I think tugging the blanket over your head and squeezing your eyes shut is a healthier reaction to a lot of fears.  Check under the bed for monsters first, of course.

3.  Us multi-linguals may have multiple personalities! This sounds a bit like a cousin of the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.  But I keep thinking of all the shadow-Echidnes which might slip out when the moon is round and the night dark or how very practical it is to take out my wallet and slip another personality card into the slot in my head.

*A spoof take of McArdle's review can be found here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

From The Instant Expertise Archives: Will Infantine (R) On Why Women Earn Less

This is such a fun example of the Instant Expertise when it comes to the extremely complicated and much-researched question why there is a gender gap in earnings.  Will Infantine dropped one of those Instant Pills into his beer mug last night and -- presto! --  he knows the reasons for women's lower earnings:

Women are not as motivated by money as men are, men work more hours and in more dangerous jobs.  Or in his own expert words:

"Men, by and large, make more because of some of the things they do," state Rep. Will Infantine (R) said during a speech on a paycheck fairness bill. "Their jobs are, by and large, riskier. They don’t mind working nights and weekends. They don’t mind working overtime or outdoors."
Infantine's colleagues' protested almost immediately, to which he responded that he pulled all of his information from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
"This is not me," he said before continuing to explain why women make less.
"Men work on average more than six hours a week longer than women do," he said, adding that even among business owners, women earn less. "Women make half of what men do because of flexibility of work, men are more motivated by money than women are."
What's the problem with all that Instant Expertise, you might ask.  Only that those things cannot explain all of the average difference in earnings by gender, only that there is a difference even once one controls for hours worked, only that the dangerous jobs are far too few to somehow explain much about the gender gap in all earnings by all full-time workers, only that even in the so-called flexible jobs which women are supposed to prefer men make, on average, more.

Or put in a different way:  You can't buy Instant Muscles or Instant Slimness or Instant Expertise.  You have to actually delve deeper and you cannot stop with those explanations that most please your inner Manhood or Womanhood.

Let me recommend a few of my posts on these matters, available as links here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Minor Goddess Thoughts: Post 2. On Sex Work and Gender

Melissa Gira Grant has written a book about prostitution (Playing the Whore), and Katha Pollitt writes about the book in her fairly recent column.  I have not read Grant's book yet, but I'm aware of the furious nature of most debates when it comes to sex work.  (This piece gives a flavor of Grant's arguments.  Pollitt's review offers some of the opposing arguments.)

This fury may be because data is hard to get on some aspects of prostitution, such as the demand side (the "johns") and also because data about trafficking and exploitation is, almost by definition, also difficult to obtain or interpret.  That leaves the debate wide open to individual views.  Those, in turn, depend on the individuals and their places in the hierarchies of the sex work marketplace.  Questions of "choice" and "agency" and such abound, but it's hard to get solid numerical data on the characteristics of mostly illegal markets.

So the debate is all over the place.  On one extreme endpoint,  sex workers are seen as women (mostly women) who were abused as children and never had a chance, who were possibly trafficked as sex-slaves or trapped as teenagers in the streets,  who are addicted to illegal drugs, who are exploited by pimps and who are essentially powerless to stop any of it.

The other extreme endpoint argues that there's nothing more exploitative about sex work than about, say, washing the bottoms of the elderly in a nursing home, that sex work is no different from any other poorly paid and exploitative occupation, such as flipping burgers, washing floors or serving customers at a Hooters bar.  According to this view, choosing sex work is a rational choice, especially for those whose other options are all linked to basic survival, and choosing sex work in the higher-paid part of the market is also a rational choice, because of the pay and the freedom the work offers.

Minor Goddess Thoughts. Post 1: The Confidence Gap Between Men And Women

I'm trying to create a series of small-to-medium thoughts, as a way to spring-clean some of the junk that hangs around in my brain.  This one is about all the recent conversations on how men have more self-confidence and how women need to get more of it and not be so focused on perfection.

The recent conversations are because a new book is out on the topic.  A flavor can be obtained from this Atlantic Monthly article by the authors. It puts together a lot of studies which show that men have more confidence in their abilities, even unwarranted confidence, and then speculates about the possible reasons for this confidence gap, all the way from testosterone to early childhood upbringing.

Because this post is only a minor goddess thought, I haven't gone through the studies or thought about why evolution would benefit from a confidence gap of that sort (though I did have time to wonder if the studies all use American data, and if so, whether the confidence gap might be cultural).

Instead, I wish to draw attention to this weird argument chain:

Do men doubt themselves sometimes? Of course. But not with such exacting and repetitive zeal, and they don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do. If anything, men tilt toward overconfidence—and we were surprised to learn that they come by that state quite naturally. They aren’t consciously trying to fool anyone. Ernesto Reuben, a professor at Columbia Business School, has come up with a term for this phenomenon: honest overconfidence. In a study he published in 2011, men consistently rated their performance on a set of math problems to be about 30 percent better than it was.

We were curious to find out whether male managers were aware of a confidence gap between male and female employees. And indeed, when we raised the notion with a number of male executives who supervised women, they expressed enormous frustration. They said they believed that a lack of confidence was fundamentally holding back women at their companies, but they had shied away from saying anything, because they were terrified of sounding sexist. One male senior partner at a law firm told us the story of a young female associate who was excellent in every respect, except that she didn’t speak up in client meetings. His takeaway was that she wasn’t confident enough to handle the client’s account. But he didn’t know how to raise the issue without causing offense. He eventually concluded that confidence should be a formal part of the performance-review process, because it is such an important aspect of doing business.

The fact is, overconfidence can get you far in life. Cameron Anderson, a psychologist who works in the business school at the University of California at Berkeley, has made a career of studying overconfidence. In 2009, he conducted some novel tests to compare the relative value of confidence and competence. He gave a group of 242 students a list of historical names and events, and asked them to tick off the ones they knew.

Among the names were some well-disguised fakes: a Queen Shaddock made an appearance, as did a Galileo Lovano, and an event dubbed Murphy’s Last Ride. The experiment was a way of measuring excessive confidence, Anderson reasoned. The fact that some students checked the fakes instead of simply leaving them blank suggested that they believed they knew more than they actually did. At the end of the semester, Anderson asked the students to rate one another in a survey designed to assess each individual’s prominence within the group. The students who had picked the most fakes had achieved the highest status.

Here's the way I understand that long quote (sorry about the length):  Men can be too confident but because they are too confident honestly, it's all good.  Indeed, overconfidence gives social rewards!

Well, perhaps in studies which employ very young undergraduates as their subjects.  But I think most people learn about this thing called overconfidence when they get to know more and more people, and most people then calibrate down their expectations when they come across a very boastful person.

I may be mistaken about how general such corrections are, but I certainly carry them out frequently.  In short, overconfidence (false though honestly felt confidence) should not benefit people in the long-run if the reward systems are based on any kind of rationality, because overconfidence doesn't signal anything real.

This doesn't mean that lack of confidence wouldn't be undesirable, especially in those who actually have a lot to be confident about.  Neither does it mean that there wouldn't be a gender difference in the amount of confidence men and women express, on average, and in the US, at least.  Still, I find it fascinating how the natural lens in these kinds of articles is to assume that the problem is solely in how women are, so that the solution is change the way women are.  Perhaps judging workers and students on objective criteria might be better?

Then there are my personal experiences (you can add yours in the comments):  During my life I have been questioned about any expertise I have often enough that I have spotted the pattern in that questioning.  It's as if I need to prove myself over and over again.  Certificates and degrees are not sufficient. 

If such questioning is more common about women than about men, then some of the confidence gap may be created by the very fact that women meet more doubt.  At least such questioning may make some women very careful about what they say or double-check everything before saying it.

Add to that the traditional gender role ideas about women.  In many cultures those strongly discourage women from blowing their own trumpets, and if a woman does pick up a trumpet, the outcome might not be the same as a confident male trumpeter receives.  Because she has violated role expectations she are more likely to  get not only accolades but also a reputation as an uppity bitch.

The best remedy for the problem of too little deserved confidence is to see what else gets touted in your field, which types of people and what type of work get promoted and what ultimately successful people do when they first fail.  And no, you certainly don't need to be perfect.  Even minor goddesses aren't.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cardinal Dolan on the Availability of Birth Control

This is from the know-nothing-but-priestsplain-files, and that's what makes it both funny and very sad.  Cardinal Dolan was defending the Hobby Lobby side of the birth control debate and stated this:

When asked whether allowing for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby to claim religious liberty could set a “dangerous precedent” for the rest of the country, Dolan deferred, claiming it’s not a problem because birth control is already widely accessible.
“Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available — my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them — is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?” Dolan said in an exchange uploaded by Raw Story. “I don’t think so. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.”

Why it's hilarious is pretty obvious.  Either cardinal Dolan thinks of condoms when he talks about "birth control", or he thinks that the pill indeed is available in 7-11 stores. Then there's that bit about mentioning the divinity's name in vain.

More seriously, though this is not the clearest example of the trend of know-nothing-is-OK-when-we're-about-controlling-women's-fertility it's part of that same trend.  For example, post-menopausal women don't need gyno services, according to some, women have a little switch that turns off when they are "legitimately" raped so that no child is conceived and so on.

I don't know about you but I think it's a good idea to know the area in which one wants to legislate behavior before spouting about it.

The Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Perhaps as many as 234 schoolgirls in Nigeria were recently kidnapped by Boko Haram:

The kidnappings are believed to have been carried out by Nigeria's extremist rebels, known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram — which means "Western education is sinful" — is violently campaigning to establish an Islamic Shariah state in Nigeria, whose 170 million people are about half Muslim and half Christian.
Boko Haram has been abducting some girls and young women in attacks on schools, villages and towns but last week's mass kidnapping is unprecedented. The extremists use the young women as porters, cooks and sex slaves, according to Nigerian officials.

Some of girls managed to escape, but most are still missing.  Let us hope all them will be found soon and in good health.

Boko Haram bases its terrorism on religion.  This article argues that it has shifted its policies to the question of gender during the last year or so.   But in any case, the goal of establishing Shariah law is linked with the goal of limiting girls' and women's choices.

Boko Haram has killed its male prisoners in the past but spared its female prisoners:

Part of the reason the military is loath to respond mightily may be because the girls who are kidnapped are raped, forced into servitude -- but rarely killed.
In February, 29 college students in the northern Yobe province were killed after an attack authorities blamed on Boko Haram. All of them were males. The women were spared.
In other instances, kidnapped girls were later rescued while working on farms. Many were pregnant or had babies -- the result of rape.
These choices may reflect Boko Haram's ideas of chivalry (though not kidnapping women and girls in the first place would seem more in tune with the idea of war being men's business), but they may also reflect the way gendered violence is used in warlike circumstances.  One leaves the women alive but impregnated by the enemy.  That way the women are viewed as "spoiled" and their children as belonging to the enemy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Meanwhile, in the World of Comics: Power Tits And Digital Sexual Harassment of Women.

Janelle Asselin, who has edited lots of comic books, writes an article criticizing this comic book cover:

She notes:

Let's start with the elephant in the room: Wonder Girl's rack. Perhaps I'm alone in having an issue with an underaged teen girl being drawn with breasts the size of her head (seriously, line that stuff up, each breast is the same size as her face) popping out of her top. Anatomy-wise, there are other issues -- her thigh is bigger around than her waist, for one -- but let's be real. The worst part of this image, by far, are her breasts. The problem is not that she's a teen girl with large breasts, because those certainly exist. The main problem is that this is not the natural chest of a large-breasted woman. Those are implants. On a teenaged superheroine. Natural breasts don't have that round shape (sorry, boys). If you don't believe me, check out this excellent tutorial from artist Meghan Hetrick.

And what happens next?  Debate about her criticisms, sure.  But also:

We all knew this would happen. As Asselin explains on her blog: “I was called a whiny bitch, a feminazi, a feminist bitch, a bitter cunt, and then the rape threats started rolling in.”

Those who do that are not the majority of people or the majority of men or boys, either.  But even if they are a fairly small percentage, when everyone in that group aims their vitriol at the same writer at the same time that impact is considerable.   It's like an extra fee one has to pay if one is to write about certain topics.  Or write as a woman on almost any topic.  And the abuse can be much worse for women of color who get smelly packages which combine misogyny with racism.

Tauriq Moosa makes a good point about what we can all do to affect this:

Yet you should recognize the digital harassment environment of women is one that is maintained through its consistency and unrelenting nature. Similarly, so should the response: unrelenting, shouted from the highest and most respectable platforms and people. What you should want to create is a culture or community that immediately does not tolerate bigotry, harassment, and abuse.
As many, including Asselin, note, a powerful reason some men feel no hesitation when sending horrible messages to women is they believe they’re operating within a space that accepts it as the norm. But you should not have “acceptance” fed by feelings of futility; your response should be intolerance of intolerance. Silence and apathy are key ingredients to a tasty helping of bigotry. Though only specific groups are served, everyone in the community must endure the smell. And smell and taste are not so different.

What about the original Asselin piece and the points it makes?  I'm not a comics reader but she is certainly correct when she states that natural breasts are not that particular shape but pear-shaped. Wonder Girl wears very large implants.

Whether something like that matters when we are talking about drawn characters of something called superheroes is an interesting question.  The answer depends on who it is that is the intended reader of the comic book and what that person wishes to see in it.   It also depends on what a female superhero is expected to embody.  Finally, it depends very much on whose cheese it is that is imagines as pulled away, whose comic books someone is trying to change and whose "entitlements" are threatened.

My guess is that the incoherence of the misogynistic anger comes from those perceived threats.  Or, rather, the vitriol expresses those underlying fears.

Noblesse Oblige. Or One Of The Consequences of One-Dollar-One-Vote in American Politics

Given the Supreme Court Republican majority views on democracy and free speech, the way politics and various institutions will be financed and molded is going to increasingly depend on the small percentage of people who have a lot of money.

Thus, one might argue that president Obama was very smart to invite the philanthropically-minded young billionaires to the White House.* After all, the Democratic party should court them before the Republican party does, right?

On the other hand, wasn't all this supposed to be something that happened during the Robber Barons era of the American history?  Wasn't the idea that more people should have a say in how those institutions are created and how politics is run?  As Digby writes:

It's very nice that many of these young idealistic aristocrats want to do good deeds. But this is really nothing more than good old fashioned noblesse oblige which basically leaves the betterment of man to the whims of rich people. One of the big improvements democracy was supposed to bring was that the people themselves decided how to organize society rather than depending on the kindness of aristocrats. Even great philanthropists of the gilded age like Andrew Carnegie believed in a huge confiscatory tax of great estates in order that the government of the people might make the decisions rather than the heirs of great fortunes.
*The story appeared in the Style and Fashion section.