Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snippet Posts 12/27/14: On Polygamy, Conspiracy Theories, Female Bishops And More

1.  I came across a piece of news about the South African president Jacob Zuma.  He's thinking of taking a fifth wife, because in the Zulu tradition rich men who can do so take a young wife in old age to take care of them.  This is an interesting example of the clash of cultural values and gender equality, because I'm pretty sure that a female South African president wouldn't get four husbands paid for from the public funds.  It's not  traditional, you see.

Traditional polygamy is not gender equal.  Each wife gets a snippet of a husband, the husband gets lots of wives and retains at least one half of all decision-making power. 

2.  If you want to read a comments section which will make you despair of humanity and want to apply for membership in the elves instead, go right over here.  Conspiracy theories bloom as in the weirdest possible garden!  I get that people who live in the comments sections of newspapers tend to be from the bottom of the brain barrel, mostly, but I've never seen all the different conspiracy theories jostle for elbow-room in one place!  What's the point of research?  Note also the opinions expressed in this 2011 Pew Survey.

3.  The Church of England has its first female bishop, Libby Lane.  This is the result of years of "sometimes contentious debate":

Women have been able to serve as priests in the Church of England since the early 1990s. But some traditionalists resisted the move to allow them to become bishops, culminating in the issue being narrowly voted down in 2012 by the General Synod, the three-times-a-year meeting that sets policies for the church.
What's interesting about that is the difference between priests and bishops.  Because bishops have more "power over" the resistance towards having women as bishops is stronger.

I shouldn't criticize the Church of England too much here, because so many of this world's religion give women a lot less power than that.

4.  Two Saudi women who defied the driving ban are going to be tried in the terrorist court, even though the women have not broken any law:

Although no law exists in Saudi Arabia forbidding women to drive, religious edicts to keep women from driving have resulted in arrests for decades. Religious conservatives justify the ban by asserting that it is improper for women to travel, no matter how short the journey, without being accompanied by a man, but one Saudi cleric went so far as to say that driving is bad for women's ovaries.
5.  An orangutang called Sandra (by humans) has been granted certain limited rights by an Argentine court.  If the decision stands, Sandra will be allowed to live the rest of her life in an animal sanctuary.  She probably won't be allowed to drive, however.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Treason. That's Erdogan's Opinion on Birth Control.

 (Picture from my files.  Unrelated to the story, except that the woman in it looks mad enough to commit treason.)

The president of Turkey has firm opinions about women's proper place and function, the former being at home and the latter producing many children.  He recently opined that women and men cannot be equal (in the sense of equal rights) and now he tells us how Turkish women should live:

Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described efforts to promote birth control as “treason”, saying contraception risked causing a whole generation to dry up, reports said on Monday.

Erdogan made the comments on Sunday, addressing the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony of the son of businessman Mustafa Kefeli who is one of his close allies.

He told the newly-weds that using birth control was a betrayal of Turkey’s ambition to make itself a flourishing nation with an expanding young population.
Erdogan is not only opposed to birth control and abortion but also to C-sections:

“They operated birth-control mechanisms for years in this country. They nearly castrated our citizens, our people going as far as using medical procedures. This is what cesarean section is all about. While they were doing that, it was like committing murder. They fooled people. They said, ‘You are going to die; we are going to save you.’ But their goal was different. … Their objective was to reduce the population of this nation and for this nation to lag behind in the competition of nations. We are disrupting this game. We have to. That is why there is much to do by our families.  I am especially calling on mothers, on our women. You are the primary force to disrupt this game. You have to take a stand.’’
If that opposition looks odd to you, note that a woman having all her children by C-sections is unlikely to have, say, ten children, but is limited to fewer.  Erdogan wants the machine to be able to churn out more babies.  For the government.*

None of this looks good for the human rights of Turkish women, by the way.  And before you describe Erdogan as a weirdo, note that he is a very popular weirdo in that country.
Theodore Roosevelt demanded something very similar from American women of his era: the early twentieth century President Teddy Roosevelt famously mocked the expanding class of working women who were pushing for suffrage. In a 1905 address to the National Conference of Mothers, Roosevelt argued that women’s contributions ought to remain primarily within the private sphere. He claimed that the highest service any American (read: white) woman could provide her country was to bear and raise children. Roosevelt acknowledged that the work was hard but insisted that no true mother would exchange the joys and sorrows of parenting for a life of work. He called a woman who avoided motherhood "a creature [who] merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle."

A Christmas Gift For You: Swimming Through a Study On Gender Roles As Innate And More

Aren't you excited about gifts?  If you don't celebrate Christmas, apply appropriate gift tags (or if you can't think of one, celebrate Jibbers Crabst).  Then join me in a fun swim through one popularization of one study and far into the vast oceans of its references and sources.  There's a good reason for this trip, as you shall see.

We will begin here (put on your flippers and mask):  "Why Men May Not Try To 'Have It All' The Same Way Women Do."  The article covers more ground than just one study, but most of it is dedicated to a recent follow-up study of mathematically gifted children from the seventies (full study available free at this link) who are now from their  late forties to their early fifties, depending on the cohort studied.

The follow-up study established that these mathematically gifted adults had had pretty good lives, with books, articles, tenured professorships, even a McArthur Genius Scholarship and high level CEO jobs.  The average family incomes in the group were also respectable.  What the researchers found, however, were pretty large differences between the mathematically gifted men and women:

"We wanted to investigate the lifestyle and psychological orientation required for developing a truly outstanding career and creative production," the researchers wrote in an article accompanying the survey results, published in November in the journal Psychological Science. "When SMPY was launched, many educational and occupational opportunities were just becoming open to women, so we paid particular attention to how mathematically precocious females, relative to males, have constructed their lives over the past 40 years."
So what insights did the high achievers offer?
Even at this level of intelligence, researchers found that the gender gap was real and obvious. Women in the study, as public discourse would suggest, were indeed interested in "having it all." Men were more focused on money than childcare.
But when it comes to "success," the achievers were varied in how they defined it, chased it and lived it out. As Lubinski told The Huffington Post, "There are many different ways to create a satisfying life."
And at the end of the day, there was one place that no difference existed at all: Study participants across the board talked about their family when asked what made their life worth living.

As a short summary of the study, the women in it worked fewer hours for money than the men in it, but worked more hours doing family-related chores.  The women earned less, on average, than the men in the group, but vastly more than the average earnings of women those men had married and somewhat less than the men they themselves married.

That sounds like slightly altered traditional gender roles.  Given that the individuals in the sample had their crucial childhood training before feminist thinking had any great impact I found it odd that the popularization didn't really address gender roles as sociological concepts* but dove pretty fast into the idea that what we see here are innate differences between men and women.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Light Blogging For the Holidays: Drawing the Vagina And The Last Presidential Press Conference Of the Year

Not much light this time of the year (happy belated solstice!), so the term must be used in the sense of weightless or not so important or funny.

For example, here are drawings of the vagina by a few men.  The drawing project was a test.  You might wish to notice that the vagina is not drawn in any of the pictures (it's the vulva that is shown there).  The other mistakes are fun, too.

We should do the same drawing project on the male genitals by women, to see whether lack of information is equally distributed or not.

And what fun that president Obama press conference was!  For some reason he took questions only from female journalists.  Why?  Did he try to balance his question-taking by the end of the year?  Or was this the first stage of the new feminazi world where not one single man is ever allowed to open his mouth?

Some meninist sites suggested the latter, to which I might mutter that if the press conference had only allowed questions from men we wouldn't even have noticed.  That's how common having men do most of the public talking is, for various reasons.

Can you guess how Howard Kurtz, Fox's media critic, criticized those women's questions?  This is so delicious:  The questions were "bland, tentative or rambling."

So.  If the questions had been deemed aggressive, what on earth could Kurtz have said about them?  That they were strident, hysterical, illogical? Probably.

A Small Thought on Privilege

You know, on white privilege or male privilege or whatever type of privilege someone might refer to.  It just occurred to me (probably light years after it occurred to everyone else) that the way the term privilege is used upends the common way that oppression and inequality have been used:  Instead of focusing on a group that is mistreated, that has too few rights etc. many now focus on a group that is treated too well, that has too many rights etc.

Which is interesting.  Whether it works similarly to the older terminology in psychological terms is also an interesting question. 

I've written before that the concept of privilege is an excellent introspection tool.  It reminds us that other people's lives can be very different, without us knowing anything about it.  It's as if the automatic doors at the store which always open for us never open for them and must be tugged and pulled hard, and that information is valuable.

But will the linguistic upending lead to the kind of change we wish to see?  I'm not sure.  In theory there is some level of treatment which might be regarded as fair, a level which we all should be entitled to receive. 

Where is that level in the privilege debate*?  Is it when nobody has any privilege left? And how do we get to that point?  By relinquishing all our privileges (because all but the most miserable person on earth will have some "privilege"** over that person)?   Can privileges be relinquished? 

Or by bringing everyone else up to the same level of privilege? But is that still privilege then?

I think the discussion needs that third level; otherwise we just pull up and tug down and there's no objective standard about the correct treatment.
*In the older debate that level was assumed to be everybody else except the oppressed group under discussion, where oppression was defined on the basis of one dimension.  For instance, women in Saudi Arabia should have the same rights of driving cars as men do.  From the privilege approach the men there should stop driving cars, I think.
**This is because privilege has been extended from its roots in class or wealth privilege to gender and race privilege and then to religious privilege, privilege of the slim and slender, privilege of the still-healthy etc.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

On Son Preference in India

The effects of son-preference in India have resulted in a trade in brides.  When the discussions about the phenomenon in China and India (especially) began, some argued that the scarcity of women would give women more power in mate-selection.  I knew that was not the case, because an antique vase doesn't get more power when it becomes scarcer:  Its owners get more power, though thieves are also more likely to steal it.

The son preference stands on two legs:  The first has to do with patrilocal marriage customs which mean that daughters indeed are a burden.  They must be fed and reared and then they are sent off, possibly with expensive dowries.  Sons, on the other hand, are viewed as the ones who carry the family name and who take care of the family in general.  Who stay.

The second leg is the lack of governmental old-age benefits.  Sons are expected to take care of their elderly parents, so a couple with no sons is going to be in trouble.  Even though daughters in the West do more of the hands-on care of their elderly parents, that task in India is more likely to be assigned to daughters-in-law.  That makes daughters even less desirable, because your daughters will care for some other person in old age, not you.

This problem will not be solved until the valuation of women rises (coughfeminismneededcough):

Just one in five women has her name on her house’s papers and four out of five need permission to visit a doctor, the India Human Development Survey revealed. Just one in five women is in the workforce, making India’s workforce one of the most gender-biased in the world. 
Note that a woman who can earn money may not need a dowry to get married.  A woman who can earn money might have more power in both her birth family and in her husband's family.  The unpaid work she does at home is deemed as her natural duty and tends not get her more bargaining power.