Friday, August 19, 2016

On High Heels And Other Clothing Coded As Female. A Re-Posting

The post is originally from here.  For other posts about female clothing, see, for example,  this, this and this post.

Richard Stainthorp's  wire sculpture (hat tip to Rabih Alameddine) makes the pain of very high heels visceral:  Ouch!

High heels are almost compulsory in fashion photographs, even so high heels that nobody could run in them should a saber-tooth tiger attack.  The reason is that they make women's legs look longer and tilt their butts to an inviting angle (for saber-tooth tigers?).

Many items of clothing which are intended to signal female gender hurt*.  Think of girdles which American women wore until fairly recently, think of Victorian corsets, think of those high-heeled shoes, think of dresses as tight as fish skin or belts pulled so small that the stomach commits suicide.  All those are intended to showcase female beauty.

From the other end, modesty clothes (to hide female beauty),  long dresses, niqabs or face veils, abayas or long cloaks,  hurt in a different way.  Abayas are stifling in hot climates, their bagginess means that they can catch on things which can result in accidents, and burqas, say, make women likely to stumble because they restrict vision .  Hearing is harder through several layers of fabric, too.  And in the colonial America women's long dresses could catch fire in the kitchens.

What both the "revealing" and the "covering" female-coded clothing share is that they make it much harder for someone to be physically active.   A woman or a girl cannot run in them, she cannot play soccer in them, she cannot climb a tree in them.  Even knee-length dresses make that tree climbing impossible, if anyone can look up that dress. 

Is it female passivity that these gender-coded clothes are intended to promote**?

Never mind.  No laws currently require American women and girls to wear girdles or high-heeled shoes or abayas, and it can be fun to take a little bit of pain when dressing up for a wild party.

But not all women on this earth are in an equally free position when it comes to their clothing.  Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have laws which stipulate that all women inside their country's borders must wear the government's approved version of Islamic dress, including women who are not Muslims.

And then there's this recent British case:

A receptionist claims she was sent home from work at a corporate finance company after refusing to wear high heels.
Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney in east London, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, said she was laughed at when she said the demand was discriminatory and sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels.
Thorp found out that nothing in the British laws stops firms from requiring that their female workers wear high heels***.  I wonder if a British firm could demand that its male workers wear, say,  codpieces?  They don't seem to have the health risks  that high heels do, after all.  And I think they would look great!

Please support this blog.  It's the fund-raising week and I promise I won't spend the money on clothing.

*  This tends not to be the case for clothing intended to show that someone is male, though men's business uniform (suit, tie, clunky dark shoes etc.) might be more restricting today than the equivalent women's business uniform (unless high heels are required).

That is an exception to the rule.  In my opinion the reason is that the male business suit has not changed for roughly a century.  When it was first created it was considerably more comfortable than female clothing of the era.  But in the West women's clothes have changed a lot during those hundred years, while men's business suits have not.

**  And if so, was it always the case?  In the medieval era European women and men dressed more alike than they did for several centuries afterwards, with both sexes wearing tunic-type outfits.  Women's tunics were longer than men's tunics, but close enough in style so that medieval wills sometimes leave clothing to individuals who are not the same sex as the person who made the will.  I believe that it was the available technology and the great expense of cloth that caused this similarity.  Gender was signaled by head-dresses and jewelry, not by most clothing. 

It is only recently that the everyday clothing of the sexes has once again become pretty similar.

*** She launched a petition to change this.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Life Is Complicated. A Re-Posting.

Originally from here.

Sometimes I despair of people's desire for very simple solutions to complicated problems.  Life is complicated, human behavior is complicated and the causes for many phenomena are myriad and interacting.  Yet what most people want are the kinds of explanations which can be made into television soundbites or which can be understood immediately by a person who has no training in the field.

Hence the popularity of, say,  evolutionary psychology where my guesses about the past are as good as your guesses about the past, and neither one of us needs actual data from that imaginary past!  We can just make up simple explanations.  That's partly why those theories apply to so many.  Why they apply to misogynists goes without saying.

Take that Search For Simple Answers to politics and you get Ron Paul believing in some weird god of free markets who will take care of everything for him.  He's not the only politician or public person who loves Simple-But-Wrong-Answers, and they are not all on the right side of the political aisle.  But that search for simplicity appears to be almost universal.  And very wrong.

I've been following the obesity debates and the same thing is going on there:  The Search For One Cause.  It's much more likely that the causes are many and that they, once again, interact, though I'm willing to bet quite a lot that the most important part of that puzzle is some change in the practices of the food industry, sometime before 1980s.  Other causes do, however, also exist.  But the change in extreme obesity levels, in particular, was too fast to be caused purely by lifestyle changes and the shape of obesity itself looks to me to have changed as well.  Fat deposits on the sides, even in an otherwise thin person, for instance.

The obesity debate is also interesting in revealing that unpleasant moralizing side of Americans (and probably people in general).  If only we all had enough willpower we'd all be slim and supple!  This turns the focus to purely individual solutions, purely individual failings and leaves the societal changes and frameworks unaffected.   Never mind that the food industry advertises soft drinks all the time!  Never mind that exercise has been cut in schools, that fears of pederasts make middle-class parents keep their children indoors and that the environment really is too dangerous for poor children to play outside.  Never mind that healthy food is expensive and bad food is cheap.  It's all about willpower and even that is assumed to be something you can acquire if you are good enough.

OK, that aside was more like a rant.  It's a hot day here at Snakepit Inc..

The Search For Simple Answers often has false duality built into it.  If the choices for an explanation are apples or bananas we tend to accept the initial setup and vote for either apples or bananas.  But what if the cause is in both?  Or in neither?   Public political debates are usually set up in those falsely dualistic terms and any attempt to explain that things are more complicated becomes inaudible.  For some weird reason.

Then take the reductio ad absurdum.  This is a common trick in political debates:  All liberals want to live off the government so that only conservatives end up working hard and paying all taxes.   All feminists want to kill unborn babies.

Substitute your own reverse argument for that one.  Then note how common such arguments are in political squabbling.  There's no good way of responding to those arguments, by the way, not because they were true (they are not) but because the debate would deteriorate into addressing an absurd argument.  Their point is not to present facts but to express loathing or hatred of the political opposition, and they work for that purpose.

The soundbite mode of public conversation makes things much worse, much more focused on short emotional comments.  Think of Twitter or television programs.  Television, in particular, may warp our understanding more than it aids it, given the short amount of time one has for presenting complex issues.  The one with the funniest soundbite wins!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why The Republican Alternative to ACA Would Fail

The Republicans presented their alternative to  "Obamacare" (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) in June.  That would be the system they are going to install once ACA is properly destroyed, stomped on and sent to the trash bins of history.

There's lots I could write about that alternative, too fluffy to be truly viewed as an alternative realistic proposal.   But in this post I want to focus on one basic belief the conservatives will not let go: 

If we only give consumers more choice and greater incentives to learn about prices then competition will drive the costs of health care down and the quality of health care up.

Here's the same statement from the Republican manifesto:

Unleashing the power of choice and competition is the best way to lower health care costs and improve quality. One way to immediately empower Americans and put them in the driver’s seat of their health care decisions is to expand consumer-driven health care. Consumer-driven health care allows individuals and families to control their utilization of health care by providing incentives to shop around. This ultimately lowers costs and increases quality.

The problem with that statement is that it is largely false, or that at least it is false in evaluating the bulk of health care expenditure.  Greater consumer choice can lower costs when it comes to getting dental cleanings and check-ups, new eyeglasses and certain other simple-to-understand basic services essentially healthy people consume.  But most of health care consumption is not of that sort, and consumer choice will not result in lower costs or higher quality.

For more detail on my counter-argument, the following earlier posts are useful: 

This one and this one explain why health care markets are inherently not competitive markets, and this one (ignore the pre-ACA stuff and scroll down to the where-when-who-why part) gives more information about the characteristics of health care costs.

Finally, note that the Republican statement I quote also has that little bit about "providing incentives to shop around."  What might those incentives be?

My guess is that they want people to pay more out of pocket and to rely more on their own savings for health care spending.  But that, of course, means that health care would become less affordable to many individuals, especially those without high incomes.

That fits, in a way, given the Republican drive to abolish the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

For Your Toolkit 2.: The Challenge: Prove That Discrimination in Labor Markets Exists

This is the second post* in the toolkit series which tries to equip you with a few tools that might come handy in debates with people who don't believe in things such as labor market discrimination:

SleeZee Lyers in the comments to my earlier post on the gender gap in wages asks this question:

Regarding hidden discrimination, I would think that in the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, that if such hidden sex associated wage discrimination as you hypothesize existed, that you would be able to find testimony to that effect from retired managers, retired executives, retired HR employees.
Surely someone must know and be ready to talk!
Occam's Razor isn't the be all and end all, but given a choice of personal choice / no discrimination or discrimination hidden by thousands for 50 years, I'd say the burden is on you to demonstrate that discimation.

This post is my answer to that Occam's Razor argument, though I wish to preface it with the fact that I believe the earnings differences reflect many reasons:  Choice based on societal expectations about what is appropriate for women and men,  gendered differences in family responsibilities, gendered preferences (whether innate or societally molded or both) and discrimination of various types.  Thus, there is no reason to go for just one explanation, such as choice.

To return to the main point:  That the burden is on me to demonstrate that gender discrimination exists in the labor markets:

First, there are fields of studies which do exactly thatThe audit studies are one group.  These consist of using trained actors, in this case men and women, to go out and apply for jobs in some industry.  The actors are coached to say all the same things and they are provided with equally good resumes.  The studies usually randomize the order in which they visit the firms and do other stuff to guarantee that the results make sense.  The studies then measure call-back rates and other measures to see whether the female and male job applicants, otherwise the same, are treated the same.

The classic study in this field is a 1990s study about server job applications in Philadelphia restaurants. It demonstrates some discrimination against female applicants to server jobs at that time and in that place.

The other important example of studies which have demonstrated the impact of gender discrimination is the classical orchestra study.  Musicians audit to get employed by orchestras.  A simple change in auditing rule:  introducing a screen so that the evaluators cannot observe the appearance of a musician but only his or her musical talent increased the probability that a female musician would be hired by an orchestra.

A further group of studies which can be used to study possible discrimination in hiring are the correspondence studies where various evaluators are asked to judge an application.  Some evaluators get the application with a female name, others get the exactly same application with a male name.  Given that the actual application is the same for both names,  in the absence of any discrimination we would expect the average evaluations of the candidates to be the same.

This is sometimes the case in such studies, but not always.  A recent study in this field shows that science faculty evaluated fictional female applicants to a laboratory manager position more severely than the fictional male applicant.  In other words, being called "John" rather than "Jane" caused the same application to be treated less harshly and also resulted in higher estimated salary offer.

Both male and female evaluators treated "Jane" worse than "John," by the way.  Thus, what these studies find is probably a societal and unconscious gender bias, not some kind of explicit discrimination by either men or women.  Other studies in this field have also found that female evaluators are usually no less discriminatory than male evaluators.

Correspondence studies about gender do not always show discrimination just against women in gender studies.  What seems to matter here is whether a job is regarded as somehow "belonging" to men or somehow "belonging to women."  Women are judged more harshly in traditionally male-dominated occupations (such as science and in writing plays), men are judged more harshly (in at least some studies) in traditionally female-dominated occupations (such as secretarial work). 

Most of this appears to be something the evaluators are unaware of.  In other words, they are not explicitly singling out applicants with female or male names.

But note that whatever the causes for this might be, the likely effect this tendency has is to keep occupations more gender-segregated:  Men are more likely to be hired in traditionally male occupations and more likely to be offered a higher starting salary, whereas the reverse applies to women in traditionally female occupations.  That the latter occupations pay much less is, however, important to remember in this context, because the benefits the applicants accrue from being treated as "typical" for their occupations are smaller for women than for men, on average.

Second, the existence of discrimination can also be measured from court cases which decide for the plaintiff in gender discrimination cases.  Such cases have appeared in the years since the 1960s and are too numerous to list here.  A few examples:  The AT&T case, the Price-Waterhouse v. Hopkins case and the Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire&Rubber Co case.

It is more difficult to study the existence of any possible gender discrimination in long-term labor contracts, because we cannot force actors to keep on acting roles over time and because it is much harder to control for individual differences in skills etc. under that setting.  The multiple regression techniques which studies us are a way around that.  If we could establish and measure all the variables which are non-discriminatory but which affect earnings, we could create studies where whatever gender difference we have been unable to account for after controlling for all those other variables would clearly be due to men and women being treated differently just on the basis of their gender.  But in reality there are always variables we don't have data about.  This means that the unexplained residual even in good studies could be an overestimate of discrimination.

At the same time, some of the variables which are included in the "neutral" category could themselves have a partially discriminatory background.  For instance, in my earlier post I noted that if women don't get promoted into certain jobs then the fact that they are not in that job category terribly often might not be a "neutral" part of the explanation.  That would require that occupations are simply chosen in the same way by both men and women.

This post is most likely a partial one.  It probably should include a discussion of the different concepts of discrimination (including institutional discrimination etc.), but I think I have written enough for the time being.

*  Originally from here.

Monday, August 15, 2016

John Tierney And His Woman Trouble Through The Ages


John Tierney is a right-wing libertarian science writer at the New York TimesWikipedia describes him as follows:

In 2005 and 2006, he was a columnist on the Times Op-Ed page, before which he wrote a column about New York, "The Big City", that ran in the New York Times Magazine and the Metro section from 1994 to 2002.
Tierney identifies himself as a libertarian and has become increasingly identified with libertarianism. His columns have been critical of rent stabilization, the war on drugs, Amtrak and compulsory recycling. His 1996 article "Recycling Is Garbage" broke the New York Times Magazine's hate mail record.[2]
Joseph J. Romm has written that Tierney is one of the "influential but misinformed" skeptics who have helped prevent the U.S. from taking action on climate change. In his 2007 book, Hell and High Water, Romm cites, and claims to refute, what he calls Tierney's "misinformation".[3]

Say hello to Mr. Tierney:

I read him a lot during his Op-Ed page years, less after those.  To me he presented a different angle from that reflected in the above quote:  He seemed to be a man who had never found an anti-uppity-woman study that didn't desperately need wider dissemination.

But it's always possible that I just happened to notice those columns by our John which worked against my beliefs, right?  It could have been that Tierney's writing over his career was much more balanced and impartial.

It could have been, but it wasn't.  Rather, Tierney used the space he was given to work against anything that just might allow women to be uppity.  The way he linked "science" to this was by lavish use of one sub-branch of evolutionary psychology, the kind I call EP or Evolutionary Psychology, the kind which is in favor in cocktail party debates about gender, the kind which ignores all cultural influences on human beings and which often results in JustSo stories about human evolution (1).

Over time, the percentage of Tierney's columns which were on the topic of what's-wrong-with-uppity women or on the topic of gender-equality-is-scientifically-proven-to-be-impossible is far too high to happen by accident, and neither is it  a random drawing from the gender studies which were published in any particular year (2).  No.  Johnnie just wanted to share with all the New York Times readers his views on women and so he picked those studies which support the same views.

Why would this matter?  After all, everybody knows that Tierney writes opinions, not facts.  He's like his brother-in-ideas, David Brooks, or like his sister-in-the-hatred-of-uppity-women, Maureen Dowd.  Just what the New York Times thinks us women might find fascinating on those kinds of opinions, right?

I wrote this post to answer those questions (which I asked myself, in a deep-and-heated political debate!):

First, it is salutary and enlightening to see what Tierney has written about us womenfolk over the last decade or so, in one place, in short lists, with the basic contents highlighted. History brought to life!  Facts gleaned from the dreck and pure noise of actual time passing, dinners, work, other articles and politics intervening!  Just pure Tierney, bright as transparent glass!  And it is great to see whom Tierney uses as experts on the "woman question."  People like Christina Hoff Sommers and Roy Baumeister.

Second, it shows you how the culture around us will affect us, will affect the information we hold, the ideas we agree with and our general beliefs about what others believe. Sometimes those cultural effects are orchestrated, and hearing the orchestra and who is conducting it (Tierney! New York Times paying for the performances!)  is an interesting and fun phenomenon. 

Third, putting together the work of one influential science writer in one influential place tells us something about the way various voices are given microphones at newspapers, something about the way "the balancing" of Democrats and Republicans and libertarians etc. in the stables of writers works out in practice, and what it's possible consequences might be.

I decided to write this post now for no particular current-events related reasons, but because I want to clean up my never-posted archives, to tidy up everything, to tie up all the loose ends, and while doing that I found research I had started into Tierney's career (3).  It seemed too good to waste, even though the research is not complete and doesn't pretend to reflect on the whole career of John Tierney (4).   So I'm tossing it out by first tossing it here.

Before we move to Tierney's work itself, I want to stress this:   

There's nothing wrong with Tierney covering certain opinions and studies which support those particular opinions.  What's wrong, in the context of opinion writing in science,  is ignoring other studies which don't support those opinions, over-using certain experts and not using others at all, and, in general, giving the impression that the studies one covers are somehow the consensus of all researchers in a particular field.