Friday, March 08, 2019

The Hallmark Cards Version of the International Women's Day

The 2019 International Women's Day is today, and it is also being slowly watered down in social media, at least in the countries I access there.  It's becoming a day to give flowers to people whose achievement is that they are women, and to thank them for carrying out their culturally ordained female gender roles*! 

Although there's nothing necessarily wrong in celebrating some demographic group for existing, I am very uncomfortable with any attempt at deifying gender and gender roles (for that way leads to more inequality)**.

I am also uncomfortable with the implicit assumption in this new celebration that all women are identical spoonfuls from the same large homogeneous soup, but also completely different from all men (who are usually not seen as being just spoonfuls from a different but also homogeneous soup bowl.)  Still, if people want to have International Days of flower-giving for all the possible various demographic groups, go for it.

But that was not the intention of the International Women's Day.  Rather, it was intended to be a day which would remind us about the oppression of women, still everyday life in many countries, which would celebrate the advances that have taken place in increasing the equality between men and women, and which would remind us about the enormous tasks still ahead.

*  Anti-feminists in the US argue that we should celebrate an International Men's Day with equal attention, that having a special day for women but not one that makes men the focus of admiration is a great unfairness.  We should have a day when we celebrate men for fulfilling their culturally decreed gender roles and when we give them flowers and thanks for that.  Or cigars and booze, I guess,  given the culturally decreed gender norms.

And if the International Women's Day becomes just a Hallmark Cards event, that's what is probably going to happen.

But the real reason for the International Women's Day, as intended,  is that in most of the world almost every other day looks a lot like an International Men's Day.  And that is not fair. 

**  This is what happens when the amorphous mass "women" are thanked for all the extra unpaid work they do while also working in the labor force, or when women are thanked for being kind and submissive and caring.  When it is done under the flag of an International Women's Day, with no plan to alter any of the problematic aspects of that division of labor, it serves to "essentialize" gender roles and norms.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

In Southern Italy, The Far-Right League Celebrates The International Women's Day...

To honor the International Women's Day, the Italian far-right league in Southern Italy has published a pamphlet with this message:

It was intended to be a dedication to women, but the pamphlet instead takes aim at those who “offend women’s dignity” by impeding their “natural role” of “supporting life and the family”.
It contains a list of six ways in which it says what it calls the natural role of women is harmed, including by “those who claim self-determination that arouses rancorous attitudes towards men” or who support laws that would allow same-sex couples to declare themselves as a child’s parents on some official forms.
The leaflet ends with a message saying that women have “a great social mission to fulfil in regards the survival of our nation”.
Members of the opposition centre-left Democratic party said the flyer “aimed to take women back to the Middle Ages”.

My translation:

The "natural" role of women is to give birth to lots of children for the new Reich, to serve as house-keepers and sexual partners,  and to obey the commands and wishes of their husbands and fathers.

This is hilarious.  The European far right's number one enemy consists of migrants and refugees, a large percentage of whom are Muslim.  One of the main arguments the far right, in general,  employs in opposing Muslim immigration is to point out the oppression of women inside Islam, especially in the teachings of petro-Islam which has become more common in European mosques because of Saudi financing.

Yet the innermost core of their own views about women is almost identical, even if in practice they would allow women a little more freedom*!

The leader of that far-right movement did try to distance himself from the pamphlet's message:

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League and deputy prime minister, distanced himself, saying he did not support the content. “I’m working for equal dignity between men and women and between fathers and mothers,” he said.

There's that "dignity" code-word again!  The Catholic Church uses it when talking about its treatment of women.  Women should be allowed to keep their dignity!  Whatever the term might mean**, it does not mean equal opportunities for (or equal treatment of) men and women.


*I have never been able to make logical sense out of the odd political bedfellows our current era contains. 

For instance, the patriarchs of the right share many of the values of the patriarchs of the Islamic right, and that should make them into bedfellows, right?

But instead of that they fight each other.  Because only one group of men can stand on top of the power ladders and have access to all the society's resources, including the bodies of its women? 

At the same time, the left, including the feminist left,  traditionally seen as the supporters of human rights of all types,  should not be in bed with those ideologies which openly advocate fewer rights for women than men, right?

But sometimes that is exactly what happens:  When criticizing specific sexist practices would appear to give support to those who harbor and disseminate anti-Muslim bigotry, or when it could be interpreted as "white saviorism" or colonial oppression, then women's rights tend to lose.

** Play with the word a little and you will find that it can be applied when something is quite unfair. Say someone believes that no woman can do higher mathematics.  That someone could then argue that letting women even try strips them of their dignity as they would falter and fail and look ridiculous.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Period Troubles. And Jokes.

If you, too,  have an infantile sense of humor, you will get a kick from the title of an email I received about the short menstruation documentary which won an Oscar* this year:

Menstrual Equity's Red Carpet Moment

But even funnier is the UK Guardian story about a guy who decided to calculate how many tampons the average menstrual period would require

I laughed while reading it, and my laughter was pure.  By "pure" I simply mean that the article is incredibly hilarious to anyone who menstruates or has ever menstruated.  My laughter wasn't hollow, bitter and cynical, and it wasn't even sarcastic.

The story is just so hilarious.  The master calculations:

“So the average period is 10 to 35ml of blood, each tampon holds about 5ml, so seven tampons per cycle,” he began. “Lets be generous and say 10 for those ladies with an extra-juicy uterine lining. Nine periods a year equals 90 tampons max,” he concluded, before going on to refer to a 64-pack of tampons listed for £7.90 plus shipping on Amazon (“Buy two packs, save on shipping”).

Okay.  Let's assume that the periods last five twenty-four-hour days and that seven tampons should be used per cycle.  Let's then figure out how long each tampon should stay inside the vagina if we follow those recommendations.  That would be around seventeen hours per tampon! 

Let's then compare that time to the recommendations about how often to change tampons in order to prevent the toxic shock syndrome, a rare-but-dangerous condition that can be associated to tampon use:

How can toxic shock syndrome (TSS) be prevented?

  • Women who use tampons during their menstrual periods should change them often. Tampons should be changed at least every four to eight hours. If the flow is heavy, tampons may have to be changed more frequently.
I do love academic research of all kinds, even the kind of "academic" this example demonstrates.  I'm now going to determine the minimum number of times people need to urinate per day and then I'm going to use that to recommend how to save money by reducing the number of public toilets/bathrooms.  So.

* The linked article about the documentary makes a few criticisms about how menstruation and girls' access to education in India is treated in it.  That I used that link is not to be intended as criticism of the documentary in itself.
But it's true that girls may be kept away from school not only because the facilities don't allow them to care for their menstrual needs, but also for reasons which correlate with menstruation:  Patriarchal societies may view a girl who has started menstruating as ready for marriage, and further education is then not deemed necessary. Or she may be kept at home so that she cannot become pregnant outside marriage.  That would damage both her chances of getting married, the only real career path for most women in such societies, and her family's reputation.

It could be that the lack of facilities for menstruating girls at schools is a direct barrier for their continuing education, but it could also be a consequence, possibly intended, of the overall treatment of children at the point when they enter the relatively constrained roles that are allowed to fertile women. 

In either case, talking about menstrual hygiene needs openly is important.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Does Google Discriminate Against Men In Pay?

Google has carried out its annual pay fairness study since 2012.  The study, which covers 91% of Google's employees, compares total employee compensations while standardizing for job type, job level, performance and location.  Standardizing, in this context, means that those four variables (and perhaps others not mentioned here) are held constant in that analysis.

These studies are then used to give additional pay to some employees who appear not to be paid enough given their job type, job level, performance and location.

The results of Google's most recent study have raised lots of eyebrows, because:

Google has given raises to thousands of men after an analysis of Google's pay structure found that the company would otherwise be underpaying those men relative to their peers, The New York Times reports. The analysis also led to raises for some women.
Google determines annual pay raises in a three-phase process. First, Google adjusts every employee's compensation based on standard factors like their location, seniority, and performance ratings. Managers can then seek additional discretionary raises for their best-performing employees.
Finally, Google performs a company-wide analysis to determine whether these raises are biased in terms of race or gender. If biases are detected, the disadvantaged workers are given additional raises to eliminate the discrepancies.
"We provided $9.7 million in adjustments to a total of 10,677 Googlers," the company said in a Monday blog post describing the results of the equity analysis.
"Men account for about 69 percent of the company's work force, but they received a disproportionately higher percentage of the money," the Times's Daisuke Wakabayashi writes. "Google said it was important to be consistent in following through on the findings of its analysis, even when the results were unexpected."

So what's going on here?  Did we suddenly wake up in the Opposite Reality, where men are the demographic group which gets paid less, even in such a male-dominated field as tech?

Monday, March 04, 2019

Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia And Google

In Saudi Arabia, women must have the permission of their male guardians (father, husband, brother, uncle or adult son) to travel.  A Saudi government app allows those men additional control over their subordinate women.  And Google will not remove the much-criticized app:

Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and conditions.
Google reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the Google Play store.
Absher is intended to make all sorts of routine government-related tasks easier for Saudis.  But those tasks include, for example, the ability for women's guardians to give or rescind their travel permissions. And Absher allows men to receive SMS alerts if the women under their control try to use their passports.

It also makes it harder for women such as Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun (or Al-Qunun) to run away from their families.  Alqunun fled her family while they were vacationing in Kuwait.  She took a flight to Bangkok, using her passport,  and tried to continue from there to Australia.

Alqunun, eighteen at the time, claimed that her family abused her and kept forcing her to accept an unwanted marriage proposal.  For a while Thai officials tried to deport her back to her family still in Kuwait.  After all, that was the correct procedure under Saudi laws which keep women eternal minors.

But she barricaded herself in her hotel room, fought back, and finally got asylum in Canada.  Other Saudi women trying to run away from their families have not been as fortunate.

The wider questions cases like this one raise are important.  They are about the rights of various cultures to enforce their own values, perhaps even beyond their own geographical borders, about whether human rights are universal values or whether they can vary depending on what particular cultures (or their rulers, more likely) decide they should be,* and what responsibility "outsiders," such as Google here, should bear for the choices they make.

As I have written before, if we respect all cultures as equal and their values as something that outsiders shouldn't comment on, then we wipe out the rights of weaker individuals under oppressive cultures.  The Amish Supreme Court case in the US is one example of an attempt to consider the rights of cultures to thrive vs. the rights of individuals within those cultures to thrive.

*  And women's rights are human rights.  It's also true that pretty much all cultures on this globe have historically limited women's rights, and in that sense the lack of those rights can well be viewed as part of the heritage of many cultures.  This does not make such limitations worth respecting.