Category Archives: sexism

patriarchy

boys read boys in the New York Times Book Review

A friend‘s FaceBook entry pointed me to an amazing article in Bitch Magazine: “Hard Times” by Sarah Seltzer. Seltzer defines and describes the pattern and statistics of the reviews of books by women, describing both the gender disproportionality, and an editorial pattern of assigning writers who are likely to dismiss feminist works.

the unimaginative world of whorecraft(TM)

A few days ago, the Village Voice wrote an article about a series of World of Warcraft-inspired porn; their article was duly picked up by BoingBoing.

Strangely, BoingBoing missed the IP angle — that “Whorelore”‘s original name was “Whorecraft” but they ran into an “IP” issue, presumably trademark. You can still see “Whorecraft” on some of the pictures at the Village Voice article. (see caption and photo)

In theory, the article makes it sound promising: Attempts to act, an ongoing storyline, warrior women, etc. But sadly, the photo gallery demonstrates that the porn is about as “inspired” and “imaginative” as Star Trek’s aliens: Heterotastic, male-centered, dominant-paradigm-of-female-beauty, and very white. Ho hum.

breadcrumb trail: Village Voice 3/2BoingBoing 3/3 [cross-posted at feminist SF the blog]

the missing “than”

The NYT had the germ of an interesting idea today: What I’d Be Talking About if I Were Still Running, op-eds from presidential candidates who have dropped out. It was only a germ because it turned out that the op-eds were only very short, virtually substance-less talking point-level comments. Now if the NYT followed this up with, say, articles doing journalism that examined the current candidates’ positions on these issues, comparing rhetoric to record, we might have something.

Anyway, I was browsing through these and — I should have known better but I clicked on Sam Brownback’s “A Family Crisis”. He had very little of interest to say — more of the tired “marriage is in a crisis” bullshit — but he did this nice little rhetorical dance that I thought was worth noting. He says:

Children brought up with a mom and dad bonded in marriage are, on average, far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.

Now, words like “more” or “less” are comparative terms. Good grammar requires we include the concepts being compared. Political rhetoric, apparently, permits leaving these things unvoiced. Politicians say the positive, and leave the negative for the readers’ minds to fill in. Grammatical deniability.

These children are “on average far more likely to succeed in school, avoid crime and live happier and healthier lives.” More likely than whom? The unmarried parents discussed in the editorial, sure, but also this clearly suggests same-sex parents. The “on average” lends it a bit of scientific gloss, and ties it into the false and misleading reports of research that are frequently circulated by rightwingers like Brownback.

Pretty slick way to politick.

gender and politics

My partner and I agree on one thing about the Democratic race: That sexism has played a major role in the treatment of Hillary Clinton. A friend of ours recently pointed out that if the genders were reversed — if Barack Obama were a woman, with little experience but inspiring rhetoric — Obama-as-woman would never have gotten as far as he has — the Democratic front-runner, or, at least, tied for front-runner.

What we’ve also noticed is that, although mainstream media commentators regularly bring up her gender, they have rarely if ever brought up the question of sexism. That virtual media silence has recently broken, precipitated, apparently, only by Hillary Clinton making the observations herself.

The NYT ran the numbers and showed that Clinton was indeed correct — that far more first questions in debates had been directed at her than at other candidates.

Then yesterday on WBUR, on On Point, Geraldine Ferraro was amazing. Sure, she ran roughshod over the host and some callers, but I loved it. Her co-guests were Ellen Goodman, Pat Schroeder, and Katha Pollitt! What a line-up. How many times have we had to listen to whole line-ups of men? Or line-ups of mostly men leavened with one woman? Such a rare pleasure to actually hear so many smart women talking together on air. It’s like real life, where I get to hear many smart women talking together all the time.

death by religion, part # in-the-hundreds-of-millions

I haven’t heard any recent updates about Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, the woman sentenced to death for witchcraft. A Saudi Arabian court issued the death penalty in 2005 for a woman who allegedly made a man impotent, through witchcraft, among other sins. According to Human Rights Watch, she was beaten until she signed (by placing her fingerprints) a confession to witchcraft — a confession she couldn’t even read, because she’s illiterate.

Now, there are some bass-ackwards-ass judges in every country, and you might think maybe she got a one-off nutter. Or, that the “modernizing” country of Saudi Arabia might let this go on at the lower levels of its “courts” but surely they step in and right this kind of wrong at the appellate level. Right? Of course, you’d be wrong, because although her case was heard by an appeal court, their decision was reversed by another court, which felt that her witchcraft was such a serious sin that her death would be in the public interest. Witchcraft that causes impotence — what could be more of a threat to the public safety than that?

It is truly astonishing to me that religion apologists tote up the supposed benefits of belief in their faith against this kind of obscenity. “I feel better because I fantasize about seeing my dead relatives when I die” versus “killing an innocent woman for a vicious, sexist delusion” (multiplied times millions, because let’s not forget the Inquisition, 9/11, the Troubles in Ireland, and all the other deaths attributable directly towards religious delusions) — yeah, that’s Creationist Math, all right.

Further reading:
* Human Rights Watch, Feb. 14, 2008
* HRW Letter to King Abdullah, Feb. 13, 2008
* Heba Saleh, BBC News, Feb. 14, 2008
* Lester Haines, The Register, Feb. 14, 2008

on the sexiness of testosterone and unquestioned assumptions

Last weekend I was listening to a program on “Testosterone” on “This American Life” (archive) and, predictably, my interest in the topic was equaled or surpassed by my exasperation and annoyance at its handling. “This American Life” is a one-hour show, that aims to do something rather cool: Shed some light on a topic by telling several different stories related to the topic. But at the end of this nuanced hour, all I wanted to do at the end of it is say, “Jesus, it’s more complicated than that.”

First of all, on some level, the mere existence of a show on this topic annoyed me. Testosterone is just so over-exposed. Testosterone is a sexy hormone, and by that, I don’t mean that it is a sex hormone or that it is responsible for the sex drive. I mean that people love talking about it, thinking about it, writing about it, and attributing all sorts of amazing qualities to it.

Continue reading

circuit split on sex toys

Well, the 5th Circuit (Texas) has just said that Texas’s anti-sex-toy-law (memorably mocked by Molly Ivins in this video, available at youtube via pandagon) is unconstitutional, relying heavily on Lawrence (or so I hear, via pharyngula); I haven’t read the case yet).

This looks like a pretty clear Circuit split with the 11th Circuit (Georgia, Alabama, etc.), which only a couple of years ago found a similar Alabama law to not violate the Constitution (PDF, Williams v. Atty General of Alabama, 11th Cir. (2004)); the Supreme Court denied cert on that one. (See Michael C. Dorf discussion at FindLaw for an overview that discusses this case with respect to the various standards in Constitutional Law.)

I really wish that we could have a penumbra of no stupid laws.

the eternal verities of fashion preferences

christ what a crock: The London Times reports that:

We all know that women like pink and men prefer blue, but we have never really known why. Now it emerges that parents who dress their boys in blue and girls in pink may not just be following tradition but some deep-seated evolutionary instinct.

I guess “evolution” waxes and wanes with the fashion trends of the centuries, because in the US in the 19th & early 20th centuries pink was the boys’ color (because it was a type of red, a strong masculine color!) and blue was the girls’ color.

So many possible responses to this utter blithering idiocy. I don’t know whether I’m madder at the Times (and other press) for reporting this crap uncritically, or whether I’m madder at the evolutionary psychologists who, in all seriousness, confirm their own social prejudices as eagerly as did the phrenologists and racist European skull-measurers of the 19th century.
update: of course, the bloggers & commenters of the world have already hit this one: the comments on the London Times article are largely insightful; bad science.net is snarky & gives historical context also; broadsheet @ salon.com had a little detail & a lot of commentary, but surprisingly, didn’t jump on the stupidity quite as much as they really could have.

gender-specific names or go to jail

In Venezuela, the National Assembly is considering restricting all baby names to a total list of 100 names. This will eliminate the wide variety of inventive names that people assign, and will eliminate names that “generate doubt” about gender. NYT 9/5

Because there just aren’t enough laws dictating gender now.

fannish media studies

A friend just sent me a link to this fan video about the TV series “Supernatural”. What an awesome demonstration of the power of technology to enable media criticism. A thousand feminists could comment about exploitative or graphic visual depictions of violence against women in a series or on TV generally, and it would never have the effect of this video. … And to conclude: this is why DRM and the DMCA suck. Because they prevent (or try to prevent) people from being able to do this.

best NYT on sex differences EVER

Some mathematicians have finally pointed out the really, really obvious problem behind a popular theory of sex differences: Men are purported to have more sex partners than women … but the math doesn’t add up. Folks loving the idea that men and women are intrinsically, inherently, biologically, different have long loved to cite things like the fact that men have more sex partners than women, which shows up in virtually any survey. It’s not logically possible, but people still cite the numbers as if they mean something. (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) Gee, I wonder if people studying and proclaiming numerous sex differences could be infected by any other forms of biased thinking?

update: broadsheet had the best headline: Chaste women + promiscuous men = impossible and some good commentary too in the article and one or two helpful points in the comments. Unfortunately, most of the commenters are stuck on arguing about the differences between median and mean (average), quibbling about the math professor’s take, and failing to understand that (a) the NYT article just did a sloppy representation of what the math professor said; and (b) at least some part of what the math professor is really getting at is the popular understanding and use of such studies (including frequent media stories). (Many of the commenters have fallen into the trap of never going back to the source to try to figure out what they’re talking about, so they’re arguing about misquotes and misunderstandings of third-generation reports about data. No wonder there’s confusion about median and mean.)

The NYT article of course didn’t help clarify anything about median or mean (that is after all part of the problem that leads to the necessity of the math professor speaking up) but they did, to their credit, get the lede implication right: The thing this really casts doubt on is the big, all-encompassing theories of human nature that argue that men are inclined to X, and women inclined to Y, because of their y and x genes respectively. So, the numbers in the surveys could be right or wrong, but the conclusions about “women’s nature” and “men’s nature” are not well-supported by relying on the median. It would have been cool if they had talked about the implications of mean and median for social sciences behavior: Are averages or medians more susceptible to social pressures, for instance? Seems plausible that those numbers would have different artifacts but I don’t know, and the NYT didn’t help.

Anyway, as the professor suggested, the numbers have to be off somewhere, because while, yes, mean and median are different, you’ve still gotta make those numbers reconcile somehow. In other words, if median and mean are different, then there have to be differences in mean among subgroups that generate the median. In other words, if most women are more chaste than most men, then some women have to be having a lot more sex than either most women or men.

The most recent survey (NCHS 2007 survey of sex & drug behavior of US adults) that precipitated this discussion showed that 29% of US men report having 15 or more female partners, and 9% of women report having 15 or more male partners. It’s a little difficult to imagine that the 9% of women have so many more partners than the 29% of men, on average, that they make up for the 91% of women who had fewer … My guess is that there is greater variability among female sex habits, that there is some real, intentional fudging in the self-reported data, and that there is some methodological and definitional problems in how men and women define sex (I’m thinking of rape: I know that some people forced to have sex nonconsensually would not “count” that person as a sex partner, whereas it seems plausible that the rapist might well count their victim as a sex partner, especially if the rapist didn’t so self-define).

The greater variability point, if true, is itself interesting: Since “greater variability” shows up so frequently in sociobiological arguments about there being more male geniuses and idiots, you’d think the “greater variability” argument would be of interest to them in the realm of sexual behavior, too.
update: slate covered it too, with the mean/median point. while focusing on the trees, slate managed to notice the forest in a single paragraph toward the end.

crossing my screen today

How to give a great man-to-man hug — a hilarious video from the developing world of masculinity studies. I went to it on the off-chance that it was actually funny, and was well-rewarded for my optimism.

Kitty not happy tshirts at work: The salon.com column “dear cary” handles various ethics and manner type issues, and I read it occasionally when spending a leisurely morning catching up on news. Today’s column was out-of-the-ordinary great: a meditation on the nature of work, especially non-democratic work.

Suellen Parker, an artist, was profiled at the NYT Magazine in a little video segment about her recent NYT Magazine cover. My partner1, a reliable spotter of intellectual property issues in the news, called my attention to it. Parker’s art for the NYT cover worked like this: She built a clay model; then shot photos of real life models to sculpt the expression; shot her clay model; then took bits & pieces of real life people photos (lips, eyes), to photoshop her clay model together with a bunch of other stuff. Totally fascinating, and M & I had a fun morning conversation about whether Parker only used her own photographs; had she gotten model releases for the photoshopping use, or just for modeling expression in sculpture; and so on. As far as copyright goes, clearly a fair use, but it’s an interesting example of the sort of thing that causes problems for copyright absolutists. (Like copyright image-recognition filters ….?)

… Our conversation also touched on gender issues. Watching how Parker presents her work, and how the NYT frames it — edits it, what music they choose for the background — and how we receive the video, we wondered how it would be different if the artist were a man. How much internalized sexism do we have in evaluating this artist? Would we see her as more “artiste” and less “craftsperson” if her voice had been his deep tenor voice? Would the NYT have chosen a more dramatic background music? A recent study suggests that we begin absorbing gender roles even as toddlers — how deeply embedded are gender roles in our construction of the world? Pretty damn.

And then there was this cool geekery — a video about new technologies that combine social information (like flickr, tagging, etc.) with new photo viewing & recognition technologies. (seadragon & photosynth). The less cool end of this fabulous flickr futurism: Combining photos from flickr with all the knowledge of the world & 3D visualization sounds fun and all, but flickr censors images for people based on their government. What will it look like when we combine flickr’s image censorship with AT&T’s proposed network filtering with google’s youtube video filtering? I see lots of blank spots in the brave new web 2.0 world.


 
 
 
 
 


1. My partner, legally recognized as such for at least a few more years. Thanks, Massachusetts!

women, families, tenure

graphic from report showing academic tenure leaks for women with families

Surprise, having kids and a husband* make it less likely that women will get tenure-track positions or achieve tenure. See the “Marriage and Baby Blues: Re-defining Gender Equity” report (PDF) by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden (2003).

Thanks to my partner (a postdoc) who sent me this illustrative graphic from the report.

* I say “husband” instead of “spouse” because I suspect this report, while in theory about “marriage”, most likely included only or primarily heterosexual partnership/marriages. This report and many others show that academic men do better with wives than without, while this report shows that academic women do better without husbands than with. The rather personal question it raises for me is, what about lesbian professional/academic couples? Does the penalty for “marriage” apply?

Also, does the parenting penalty apply only to the birth-mom or the stay-at-home mom, or does it apply regardless based on choices that most moms make to prioritize their children, regardless of the presence or absence of gender of their partner? The data showed that single moms did better than married-to-a-man moms, so I suspect that the problem for academic moms is not motherhood, per se, but persistent sexism in academic moms’ heterosexual relationships. Is there a better way to understand this data?

Boys read boys, NYT Editorial Board edition

string of author photos at NYT MidtermMadness blog

Good going, NYT — on their new “http://midtermmadness.blogs.nytimes.com/”, which offers an array of commentators, professors, and pundits to comment on the 2006 elections … they’ve given us six (6) men, all apparently white, and dare I guess their class backgrounds? Way to seek a diversity of opinion.

 
 
 
 
 
 

contraception, vaccines, alarming men

Two quickies:

(1) badgerbag posted this photo of Walgreen’s “Emergency Contraception Encounter Form” — probably from California, but perhaps implemented elsewhere. Nine states (including California) allow women to get EC directly from a pharmacist. Apparently, this is what women have to do to get EC. Holy Griswold, Batgirl.

(2) The FCC has finally broken thru the rightwing lobby to approve the HPV vaccine. [nyt 6/9] I note that the US has many states that will not be able to afford to disseminate it. Or will choose not to be able to afford to disseminate it, probably because they need to give tax breaks to sports stadiums or something important like that. I also couldn’t help but note the tender concern for the precious anxieties of “men”:

Merck had originally hoped to get the vaccine approved for use in boys. But although women have routinely allowed swabs to be taken of their vaginal cells, the company found that men rebelled against the use of emery boards to collect cells from their penises. Researchers eventually discovered that jeweler’s-grade emery paper effectively removed cells without alarming men and were able to complete their studies.

Geez.

boys read boys, NYT edition

Yet another instance of boys-read-boys makes the news. This time, Dave Itzkoff’s new “It’s All Geek To Me” column in the NYT. My partner thought I’d be excited — and I was — to see science fiction getting a column in the NYT. Alas, though, it’s only a boy-reads-boys column.

The first column (March 5, “It’s All Geek to Me,” NYT) reviewed a boy and compared the prestige of science fiction boy writers to non-science fiction boy writers (lesser) and compared the reviewed boy to two other boys in one sentence. (“[I]t is entirely possible that Marusek never set out to be the John Updike of the Asimov set.”)

Boys Cited, 7:

  1. Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
  2. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
  3. David Marusek, Counting Heads & “We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy”
  4. Khaled Hossein, The Kite Runner (self-described as “an epic tale of fathers and sons” — this actually looks potentially interesting even tho the father-son thing is incredibly overexposed)
  5. A Million Little Pieces (male literary fraud James Frey)
  6. Isaac Asimov
  7. John Updike

Women Cited, 1:

  • Oprah, I presume, although she doesn’t actually get mentioned by name: “Whether you read books because you have a genuine, lifelong passion for literature or because a feisty woman in Chicago tells you to …” (I’ve never quite understood why some people pooh-pooh Oprah’s book club. A, she promotes reading, so some people read who might otherwise not; B, she does some selection that folks might otherwise not have time to do. If you don’t like her selection of books, don’t read them. But from what I understand, the “book club” is a hell of a lot more informative & engaging to the audience than Jon Stewart’s or similar talk show promotional tour interviews with authors.)

not exactly tempted by faith or incomplete

Then-mere Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) wrote in “Introduction to Christianity”, his “best-regarded book”:

“Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a constant temptation, so for the unbeliever, faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world,” he wrote. “In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.”

Unless you’re a woman, I guess, which is maybe why I escaped the temptations of faith.

More recently, as now-exalted-and-infallible Pope Benedict, he wrote:

While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become ‘complete.’

Fish without a bicycle, that’s me.

[nyt 1/29]

copyright versus writers

“I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation.”

Simone de Beauvoir, 1982.

Another example of copyright being used by the copyright owner to control or restrict dissemination of a copyrighted work — regardless of the likely desires of the creator. Ampersand at Alas, a Blog writes about publisher Knopf’s control over Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, citing Sarah Glazer’s editorial, “Lost in Translation”, NYT Aug. 22, 2004. Apparently, Knopf refuses to allow a new French-to-English translation to fix the (apparently) glaring problems with the first translation. This editorial is over a year old, so I just checked amazon.com as a quick & dirty proxy for a Books in Print search. All the English versions I found still cite to the Knopf translation (copyright renewed in 1980).

Ann Bartow’s commentary on Sivacracy includes this very pointed observation:

Once again copyright law is preventing rather than incentivizing the creation and distribution of important ideas and expression.

When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and/or to prevent her from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand made by her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

update 12/21: Alas, a Blog has heard a rumor that Knopf may have agreed to a new translation, and links to another article on the issue.

carnivalia

a variety of exciting carnivals to read:

for more … blog carnival index and the über carnival site