Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Short Posts About Women And Gender: Sexism in Politics, Online and In House-Cleaning; New Definition of Feminism And Some Fun Stuff

1.  One study strongly suggests that sexism played some role in Elizabeth Warren's performance in the primaries:

Data for Progress surveyed 2,953 likely Democratic primary voters in August, 2019 and then re-interviewed as many of them as possible (n = 1,619) at the end of January, 2020 -- just before the Iowa caucuses. In the first wave of the survey, respondents reported how much they agreed or disagreed with four statements that are meant to gauge one’s level of “hostile sexism”: 
  1. Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.
  2. Women are too easily offended.
  3. Most women fail to appreciate fully all that men do for them.
  4. Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.
As you might imagine, many Democratic primary voters tend to strongly disagree with all of these statements, but this is not true for everyone. Roughly one-third of likely Democratic voters do not, on average, disagree with these statements.


...Warren received little-to-no support from the roughly one third of the Democratic primary electorate that does not reject these sentiments. The current front-runners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have support from voters with a variety of views on these items.

The linked article stresses that there are many other reasons why someone might not have cared for Warren's policies.  But sexism seems to have played a role.

It's also possible that some primary voters engaged in what the linked article calls second-round sexism, i.e., the belief that other voters are likely to be sexist and that having a woman as the Democratic candidate in the general elections is going to make defeating Trump less likely.  This strategy, then, would explain why the remaining two Democratic candidates are white men roughly Trump's own age:  Minimize all differences except for the bits about Trump people hate so that as many as possible will not vote for him.

2.  Sir Tom Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world-wide web, is worried about the way women and girls are treated online:

Berners-Lee highlights three areas that need “urgent” attention. First is the digital divide that keeps more than half of the world’s women offline, largely because it is too expensive, or they do not have access to the equipment or skills to use it.
Second is online safety: according to a survey by Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, more than half of young women have experienced violence online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and having private images shared without consent. The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse.
The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. “Many companies are working hard to tackle this discrimination. But unless they dedicate resources and diversify teams to mitigate bias, they risk expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before,” he writes.
I would add to that list all the misogynistic hate sites, including the incel sites, and the radical hatred of all women they disseminate.

I have no idea what a workable solution to this problem might look like, though it could help if other users strongly disapproved of social media behavior which consists of misogyny, sexual harassment and the like.  In other words, the social norm on this needs changing.

3.  I felt a strong sense of deja-vu reading a new Guardian piece which asks if it is ever acceptable for a feminist to hire a cleaner.  That's because roughly the same story was written by my favorite anti-feminist, Caitlin Flanagan, some fifteen years ago, and I wrote about it then.

The hidden framework both those articles use goes something like this:

Most unpaid work at home shall be defined as Women's Work.  If a woman refuses to do it so that she can do more paid Men's Work outside the home, then poorer and more oppressed women must fill the gap she is leaving by that refusal.  Because that unpaid work at home is Women's Work.
This means that the liberation of middle-class women comes at the expense of working-class women, and is not real liberation.  

The only ethical solution is for all feminists to do their own Women's Work *. 

It's worth spelling that out given that the class (or capitalist) analysis the argument otherwise applies is equally valid for studying similar ethical questions in the lives of, say, male stockbrokers who choose not to clean their own offices at work and who choose not to launder their own suits or iron their own shirts.

Perhaps the ethics of those choices tend not to be questioned because they are seen as taking place in the public sphere or in a marketplace and not at home?

But what about that same male stockbroker who employs a cleaning lady to clean his fancy townhouse?  Why would the ethical considerations there be any different?   In any case, why are questions about who cleans the toilet seen as somehow the responsibility of women alone when lots of people use those toilets in many households?

The problem with this analysis is that it conflates two different questions.  One of them is low-pay work and the exploitation of workers.  The other one is labeling certain chores as belonging to women and then holding women to different standards than men when it comes to exploiting low-paid workers.  The solution to the worker-exploitation problem is better labor market protections and fairer wages.  The solution to labeling certain chores as inherently belonging to women only is to stop doing that.

4.  The Planned Parenthood website has a glossary of terms.  One of them defines feminism in a manner I have not seen used before:

The belief that people of all genders should have equitable economic, political, sexual, and social rights.
 My guess is that this definition tries to update and expand the traditional definition of feminism which has to do with equitable rights for both sexes.  But switching from sex to gender causes difficulties which the writer of that definition might not have thought about:

When someone writes "all genders" the basis for defining "gender" is probably coming from the gender identity school of thought, which assumes that all individuals have a gender identity which is not based on their actual biological sex but may correlate with it (in which case one is called cisgender inside that school of thought) or not (in which case one is called transgender or nonbinary).

The decoupling of biological sex from gender identity and the use of the latter to define "gender" (what men and women and nonbinary people are) then means that all the genders in the above definition will contain both female-bodied people and male-bodied people (though the relative percentages vary widely).

Suppose abortion was banned.  Would the new feminism, as defined in the above quote, be concerned about this ban?

I don't see how it could be concerned, because the imagined abortion ban would not be singling out any particular gender, as long as all genders contained some male- and some female-bodied people.  All genders would be equally constrained by that abortion ban, and in that sense their rights would remain equitable**.

If this is the way feminism is now defined, then no social justice movement addresses sex-based oppression, despite it still being probably the type of oppression in this world which has the largest number of victims.  So I hope that this is not the generally used new definition, or that people using it figure out how to amend it to allow the traditional tasks of feminism to still be carried out.

5.  Finally, some fun things about women.  Here are ten inspiring stories about individual women (from the International Women's Day celebrations).  This story is about a painting now attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi which was earlier attributed to a male pupil of her father.  And here are colorized pictures of British women working in factories and such during WWI.


* This is, in fact, also the conclusion of the author of the Guardian piece!  The unequal distribution of work at home (child care, cooking, cleaning, laundry) is one reason why women earn less than men, on average, so it's odd to see a self-declared feminist recommend that more women increase their share of that work, and it's even odder to see how quickly she gets past the idea that men should chip in more.

It's also somewhat difficult to see how not hiring cleaning ladies would make their lot better, or how the valuing of  traditional women's work would increase if more women voluntarily do it for bed and board.

**  Similar problems crop up with pregnancy discrimination in the labor market.  When individuals from all genders can get pregnant, discriminating on the basis of pregnancy is actually not gender-based discrimination.

Actually, similar problems crop up with all aspects of sex-based oppression, including sex-based labor market discrimination, sex-based religious rules which limit women's lives, sexual violence and harassment which are predominantly aimed at female bodies (or bodies which look female to others) and so on.

It's worth noting that trans women, for instance, can also suffer from sex-based oppression when others view them as women, and that female-bodied nonbinary individuals are unlikely to be able to escape sexism, given that sexism depends on how others view us, not on how we view ourselves.  Thus, the importance of understanding (and being able to measure and analyze) sex-based oppression is not limited to just those the gender identity school would call cisgender women.