Thursday, November 20, 2014

All the New Republican House Committee Chairs Share One Thing

They are all men:

Notably, none of the new House committee chairs are women. Current House Administration Committee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) remains the only female on the roster of panel leaders, which was announced earlier.

Is "House Administration" like housekeeping?

The Republican Party sighed a great sigh of relief after deciding that the war-against-women issues didn't seem to work in the last midterm elections.  Now they can run the party the way it should be run, as an old white boys' tree-house, and ignore those pesky wimminz' issues.

All this is hilarious.  Or would be hilarious if I was reporting on it from outside the country and if the Republican Party didn't vote almost 100% against everything that would make women's lives easier (family leave, equal pay, contraceptive choice etc. etc.)

But there's a technical reason for that dearth of women on the top of the Republican pyramid:  There aren't that many Republican women in the Congress in the first place, so the pipeline is nearly empty (or the oven turned off).

PS. I always remind readers in these posts that the relevant way to judge "diversity" is by thinking about population percentages and how well the percentages in the Congress reflect those.  From that angle Republican women are sorely under-represented. 

A Housekeeping Post

Can you see the comments link when you read the blog?  I noticed that my SeaMonkey (a backup browser) doesn't show the comments link at all.  If you use SeaMonkey, do you see a door to the comments?  It should be right below each post.

Anything else I should know?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

When Life Gives You Don Lemon...

(This post is about sexual and physical violence.)

The background to this story is a vast and tentacled one*,  about the fifteen (so far) women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault at some point of  his long acting career.  One of those women, Joan Tarshis, was interviewed by Don Lemon about her experiences.  The transcript:

LEMON: Can I ask you this, because -- and please, I don't mean to be crude, OK? 


LEMON: Because I know some of you -- and you said this last night, that he -- you lied to him and said "I have an infection, and if you rape me, or if you do -- if you have intercourse with me, then you will probably get it and give it to your wife."

TARSHIS: Right. 

LEMON: And you said he made you perform oral sex. 

TARSHIS: Right. 

LEMON: You -- you know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it.
TARSHIS: Oh. Um, I was kind of stoned at the time, and quite honestly, that didn't even enter my mind. Now I wish it would have. 

LEMON: Right. Meaning the using of the teeth, right? 

TARSHIS: Yes, that's what I'm thinking you're --

LEMON: As a weapon. 

TARSHIS: Yeah, I didn't even think of it. 

LEMON: Biting. So, um --


LEMON: Yes. I had to ask. I mean, it is, yeah.

TARSHIS: Yes. No, it didn't cross my mind.
On one level Lemon asks one of those questions which are commonly asked of people who come forward only a long time after an alleged sexual assault:  Why didn't you go to the police then?  Why didn't you resist or resist more?  Why did you go out with him (or ended up alone with him) in the first place?

Some ask those questions because they wish to ascertain (from the answers) the truthfulness of the allegations or because they wish to give the person interviewed a chance to explain her or his reasons for staying silent such a long time.  Some ask those questions as a form of victim-blaming, and some appear just clueless.

I think Don Lemon falls into that last category, though I'm willing to put him into all the categories if he so wishes.  But it's clueless to suggest that a woman in those circumstances should bite the man's penis,  perhaps to bite it off (thus causing him potentially to bleed to death).

Consider the circumstances:  You are alone with a man larger and stronger than you, a man much more powerful and famous than you, and you are told to escalate the situation by biting his penis.   What could possibly go wrong?

A lot could go wrong, both immediately (risk of physical violence increases, someone might die) and in the longer-run (a possible court case about excess use of force in self defense, combined with trying to prove the sexual assault in the first place (so that it is just excess force in self defense, not in an attack), a probable end to one's current career plans, stigmatization for life if the case becomes public).  Indeed, the circumstances in which biting-the-penis results in a happy ending for the victim are extremely improbable.

I can't believe I actually wrote the above paragraph!  But then Lemon's comments would have seemed pretty incredible a few days ago.
*Even vaster if you set it into the framework shared by Jhian Ghomeshi, a Canadian television celebrity who has recently been accused of hitting and choking women he dated.  Ghomeshi's defense is that he was acting the sadist's role in a fully consenting sado-masochistic relationship.  The women who have come forward say that they were not asked for consent and did not consent.

That larger framework is about more questions:  The power of the powerful, the pitfalls of power, the differences and similarities between those cases and the alleged or proven sexual and/or violent assault cases by less powerful individuals.

The imbalance of power in the Cosby and Ghomeshi cases has received shorter shrift than it deserves. It doesn't only affect the initial settings of the alleged acts but the likely consequences of reporting the acts to the authorities. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And A Little More About That Shirt Debacle: Glenn Reynolds Chips In.

In some ways it really began as a storm in a teacup, and I missed the ball on something important when writing my previous post, though Crissa in the comments pointed the omission out:  There was no big feminist uproar about the shirt-with-the-leather-corseted-women, if by "big" we mean something written out on very large numbers of feminist blogs and/or talked about on various list-serves.

Indeed, after I checked all this, I found nothing about the shirt on those list-serves.  Glenn Reynolds (newly come to his full blossoming as an MRA (Men's Rights Activist)) also tells us is that there really wasn't much of a storm in the first place.  He states that two women whose jobs are linked to science commented on the shirt:

The Atlantic's Rose Eveleth tweeted, "No no women are toooootally welcome in our community, just ask the dude in this shirt." Astrophysicist Katie Mack commented: "I don't care what scientists wear. But a shirt featuring women in lingerie isn't appropriate for a broadcast if you care about women in STEM." And from there, the online feminist lynch mob took off until Taylor was forced to deliver a tearful apology on camera.
I'm not sure what this online feminist lynch mob looks like.  It couldn't have been enormous, because I missed it for quite a time. But sure, there were a few blog posts on the shirt.

What Glenn Reynolds seems to have missed is the responses Rose Eveleth, for instance, received.  They are not mentioned in his article so I'm going to put a few of them here:

Those are good to keep in mind when thinking about this bit from Glenn:

"Mean girls" online mobbing may be fun for some, but it's not likely to appeal for long. If self-proclaimed feminists have nothing more to offer than that sort of bullying, then their obsolescence is well deserved.
Added later:  It's almost impossible to measure various "mobs" on Twitter.  They could be a handful of people in some cases and a large group in other cases.  So we should be careful when using words like a "Twitter mob".  What can be measured, to some extent, is the number of responses individual tweeters get.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Story of The Shirt With Leather-Corseted Women

This BBC article summarizes the story, with relevant pictures.  The scientist in the quote is Matt Taylor:

One of the leading scientists on the Rosetta Project gave a string of TV interviews in a shirt emblazoned with half-dressed women. The angry reaction online spawned two hashtags, spoof images and has now led to a tearful apology as well.

The Story of the Shirt has indeed provoked lively debates online and possibly elsewhere, too.  There are two major sides to these debates, and because I happen to be bilingual in this stuff, I'm going to give you the main messages of both sides, in terms which are clear to people on the other side!  Isn't that useful and wonderful?

Let's begin:

First, the side which can be simplified into "women-in-science and women interested in those banned-word* issues":

Here we go again!  An important public interview about the fun and excitement in science, a major moment in the history of space exploration, and women are present in leather corsets sticking out their butts and tits from the shirt.  The broculture in action!  It's their world and we can only visit it if we are willing to stick our butts and tits out the same way.  If he had to wear a shirt with women on it, why not this one?

And this is what Taylor said in the interview:

During an interview about the landing, Dr Taylor had branded the comet landing 'the sexiest mission there’s ever been. 
'She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy.'

Got that?  It's good to remember that Taylor's field is covered with guys, in statistical terms.  All this (and the broculture) should be kept in mind when considering the above message from one world.  It's also important to remember that this shit is drip-drip-drip, nonstop, even though consisting of tiny and essentially trivial jabs in one's eyeballs and ears.

Second, the defenders of Matt Taylor.  This group consists of people who think Taylor is just a bit of a goofball:

The guy is socially clumsy.  After all, scientists are socially clumsy.  He was trying to make the point that he's just the average guy, having fun, wearing a shirt a friend made him, showing all of us that science is fun and that nerds aren't really nerdy at all but ordinary folk:

Before the emergence of #shirtgate, Dr Taylor, a father-of-two and the son of a brick layer, praised on Twitter for being 'a proper cool scientist' and 'definitely not boring'. 
One Twitter user wrote: 'Dr Matt Taylor is what every scientist should look like - rad shirt, sleeve tattoos. Rad,' while another said: 'Matt Taylor causing thousands of people to choke on their cornflakes this morning.'
And imagine if you were given this public treatment for the way you were dressed somewhere in public (I once wore a black shoe and a blue shoe)!  
The scavengers have landed on the still-warm corpse of someone who offended the feminazis!  Poor guy.  He didn't mean anything sexist with that shirt.  He was just showing us the human side of being a scientist.  At the end of this idiotic debacle he had to apologize and he was in tears, and that's the real injustice, right there.

Got that?  Some people made a giant mountain out of a molehill and then tried to suffocate a well-meaning but socially inept scientist under that mountain.

And what do I conclude from all this, given my divine viewpoint?

That both sides are correct in some ways.  I doubt very much that Taylor tried to explicitly make women feel that they don't belong in science, and I doubt very much that he chose to see the project as a woman who must be seduced etc in order to put women in their proper place (outside science but sexually available).

At the same time, that's the message he was broadcasting, if ever so slightly.  And the reason for that is pretty obvious:  The ways we define "a normal guy" and "just having fun" do not exclude shirts like that or statements like that unless you are well-versed in gender issues and the complaints linked to the broculture in STEM fields.  Some people have the luxury of not having to be well-versed in those issues, and for that group the whole incident looks like people taking out a cannon to kill a mosquito on the poor man's forehead:  Reactions utterly out of scale with the presumed crime.

Compare that to the drip-drip-drip aspect of all those little acts that are tilted by gender.  Perhaps another mosquito parable would apply here:  One mosquito you can swat away, but if you are always surrounded by a horde of them you do become rather sensitive to mosquito stings.

Whatever you might think about that, someone probably failed in organizing those interviews and in making sure that Taylor was appropriately dressed for the occasion.
*That would be feminist.  See Time magazine for more details.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Speed Posting Thu 11/13/14: Living While Female in China, India and El Salvador

In China employment discrimination against women sounds a bit like the US of 1960s.  There may be laws against it but the cultural norms don't find that much wrong with it.  Still, this article suggests that times they might be a-changing. 

On the other hand, removing the one-child policy could have complicated effects on the goal of gender-equality:  More women are expected to take more time off from the labor market, which makes them less desirable employees, and the valuation of daughters might go down when fewer people don't have to stop at the one daughter but can keep on trying for the sun son.

On the third hand, the linked article suggests that feminist awareness is rising among the young women in China!

In India, at least eight women have died after sterilizations.  Tainted drugs are suspected.  The government offers sterilizations at no cost to the patients, as a way of combating India's population growth.  But here's the bit which is worth noting:

About 37% of Indian women have undergone sterilization procedures, the highest rate in the world, compared with 1% of Indian men. Karat said state and local governments opt for the surgeries instead of educating women — most of whom are uneducated — about other contraceptive measures.

Can that 37% figure be right?  Even if it isn't, the difference between the male and female figures probably is roughly correct.  When you consider the fact that female sterilization is a more invasive procedure than male vasectomy...

Of course tainted medications could have killed patients of either sex.  The point is that the risk, on average, is considerably greater for women than men when it comes to sterilization.

In El Salvador abortions are illegal for any reason.  Combine that with a culture which views a pregnant unmarried woman as a slut, to be shunned, and you get this:

El Salvador's ban on abortion is driving hundreds of girls who become pregnant after being raped to commit suicide every year because they see no other option, a government official said.
Teenage pregnancy is one of the leading causes of suicide in the Central American country of 6 million people. Three out of eight maternal deaths in El Salvador are the result of suicide among pregnant girls under 19, latest government figures show.
Read the linked article to spot the role of the Catholic church in all that.  Then think about the fact that the extreme fringe of American forced-birthers want to copy the laws and culture of El Salvador.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Social Justice Warrior: Now It's a Slur And Used So by Andrew Sullivan

The speed of change online and in the media is fascinating to watch.  If you turn away for a second to get your eleventh cup of coffee, you miss something crucial.  For instance, the midterm elections cured the Ebola fear epidemic!  They did.  Now if we could only put the reason into a new vaccine.


I was supposed to talk about Social Justice Warriors (SJWs). They used to be people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.   But now they are people who bite righteous (that's how the world is and too bad but I'm able to admit it) sexists or racists  in the butt, who try to steal gamer boys'  inborn right to have nekked women in the computer games, to possibly pretend-rape or pretend-kill them and so on*.

They are people who try to drown the freedom of speech, to initiate that long-gray-corridors-and-slamming-metal-doors era of government communism on the free and wild cowboy Internet!   Only this time the faceless bureaucrats will have a face:  It's that of a leftist feminist or a revolting-disgusting-all-powerful feminazi.  And yes, Virginia, SJWs can include men.  Those men are called manginas (man-vaginas, which is intended to be a slur) or white knights (men who defend women, those slutty filthy vermin),

Oh my.  I've spent too long in certain places online.  My apologies for that.  Now Andrew Sullivan (of the why-men-are-hormonally-superior-to-women fame) has jumped in the fray, with his fears that the feminazis have captured Twitter and are now removing the accounts of anyone who hates feminism.  Not just accounts which are abusive, mind you, but accounts of someone erudite-in-his-hatred and not at all threatening (such as Milo Yiannopoulos, a writer for Breitbart, and a self-identified leader of the Gamergate)!

What lit the fire under Sullivan's tail this time?  Probably the new cooperation between WAM and Twitter:

Sullivan’s panic was occasioned by news that the small nonprofit Women, Action and the Media, or WAM!, is working with Twitter to try and make it more responsive to rampant gender-based harassment. The arrangement, contrary to Sullivan’s headline, doesn’t give WAM! power to decide what is and isn’t allowed on the service; it simply gives the group a direct line to Twitter to report verified cases of abuse and monitor their outcomes. “WAM! will escalate validated reports to Twitter and track Twitter’s responses to different kinds of gendered harassment,” says the group’s announcement. “At the end of the pilot test period, WAM! will analyze the data collected and use it to work with Twitter to better understand how gendered harassment intersects with other types of harassment, how those attacks function on their platform, and to improve Twitter’s responses to it.”

Michelle Goldberg, the writer of that quote, then notes that Sullivan doesn't seem to have read anything by women on online harassment or anything about online harassment in general.  I spotted the same thing.  He believes everybody faces exactly the same levels of death and rape threats and that everybody would manage just fine with a skin as thick as his.  Given recent stories like this one and this one, I'm not at all certain that women don't have an extra helping of hatred on their online dinner plates for just being women.

I have not studied the experiment WAM has with Twitter, and I cannot judge how it is going to work, but the whole thing smells a bit like an attempt by Twitter not to follow its own ethical guidelines but to make someone else do the work.  The crucial question Sullivan asks is, of course, whether accounts could be canceled for ideological reasons and not just for threatening violence or harassing someone nonstop.

But you cannot find the answer to that by asking only the people whose accounts have been canceled, just as you cannot necessarily believe someone in court who is accused of committing a crime.  Yet that's exactly what Sullivan seems to be doing:

Let me know if you’ve been suspended for ideological reasons – and not for harassment or stalking or threats of violence. And if you know of a Twitter account that has been rightly suspended for actual threats to individual women, ditto. 

What's this all about, then?  Sullivan would say it is about the freedom of expression, and he might coin himself the First Amendment Warrior.

I think a lot of this is, deep down,  about the hatred of women that waxes strong inside some Twitter users.  Attempts to regulate the forms that hatred takes in public are necessary, but they are not getting to the root of the problem.   For note that a woman can be guilty of as little as tweeting a joke about a sports team, and down come the hordes, ready to commit imaginary vile crimes on her, to punish her for her Twitter crime.  Which is to speak, especially if it is in an area others regard as properly male.

See how Sullivan and I both ended with freedom of expression concerns?  He is worried about the silencing of certain voices, I point out the silencing of different voices, and the two concepts dance together.  A danse macabre?

*There's a second definition of that term, too, having to do with some Twitter groups.  Goldberg refers to it in her article.