Wednesday, January 06, 2016

To Clarify The Previous Post

This one.   My goal with that post was to criticize mayor Reker's advice to women.  I would criticize that sort of advice whether the suspected culprits are native-born Germans or immigrants or aliens from outer space.  That aspect doesn't matter for the criticisms, and it shouldn't make any difference in how the German law is applied, either.

How Not To Get Sexually Molested: Lessons From Henriette Reker, the Mayor of Cologne

After the events of Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart (and Düsseldorf) I wrote about yesterday,  the mayor of Cologne organized a crisis meeting.  Good things came out of it:

The crisis management team said prevention measures should include a code of conduct for young women and girls, and Mayor Reker said the existing code of conduct will be updated online.
The suggested code of conduct includes maintaining an arm’s length distance from strangers, to stick within your own group, to ask bystanders for help or to intervene as a witness, or to inform the police if you are the victim of such an assault.
In anticipation of large carnivals in the city centre in February, Mayor Reker promised an increased police presence. She warned young women about potential dangers of drunken events.

Mayor Reker also said a “better explanation” to asylum seekers was needed about the meaning of the annual carnivals.
“We need to prevent confusion about what constitutes happy behaviour and what is utterly separate from openness, especially in sexual behaviour," she said.

Bolds are mine.

I cannot stop laughing.  I imagine German women now walking about with their arms horizontally extended, making sure that any stranger stays out of the reach of their finger tips.  Especially fascinating to try to do this in a rush-hour subway car!  Well, in any crowded place, such as large cities tend to be.

Besides, a harasser is unlikely to honor your arm's length of private space*.  That's the definition of a harasser.

The Guardian reports that:

Journalists at the press conference said the mayor had reacted with surprise to the initial question and her struggle for an answer demonstrated the extent to which it had caught her off guard.
That is also laughable.  Women were the victims in Cologne,  and the mayor had not thought about them long enough to baste together something less inane about the "proposed code of conduct!"

Even the idea that women are to have a code of conduct makes me giggle.  Maybe this is just because of the English translation, but the association in my mind is to schoolgirls who are allowed out only under strictly defined conditions.

And of course all this veers very close to victim blaming, because the advice is such weak tea (almost pointless)** and so thoughtlessly prevented, and because Reker's advice to anyone who might consider molesting women seems to be the even more inane idea that those men don't know it's wrong!  They know it's wrong, they just want to do it.

The social media reaction to this "advice" was ridicule, and I agree that mayor Reker deserved that in this particular case.

See this clarification to the post.

*Unless you measure that arm's length with a sword or a machete.  But then you get into trouble with the police.

** That's because harassers don't care about your private space and because harassers working in teams can easily separate you from your friends.  Bystanders may not be present or may not intervene, and reporting the harassment to the police doesn't prevent it.   And of course you might be out alone, gasp, in which case your friends are imaginary. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Meanwhile, in Cologne, Germany

(Posts beginning with "meanwhile" are about negative events which affect women somewhere in the world).

Note:  This post has been corrected.  Originally it stated that the number of those doing the assaulting equaled one thousand men.  That's because of the way many newspapers reported this, including here and the quote I used in this post.  The New York Times also reports several hundred attackers.   More clarity on the actual numbers will have to wait for the police investigations.

On New Year's Eve pairs or small groups of young men of Arabic or North African appearance assaulted women at Cologne's main railway station.  Similar groups attacked women in Hamburg and in Stuttgart:

Police in Germany are investigating an alarming series of sexual assaults on women trying to celebrate the New Year by large groups of single men “of Arab or North African appearance”.
Authorities in the city of Cologne are to hold a crisis meeting on Tuesday after police described a group of some 1,000 men who took over the area around the main station on New Year’s Eve.
Women were robbed, groped, and had their underwear torn from their bodies, while couples had fireworks thrown at them.
Police have received 90 criminal complaints, around a quarter of them for sexual assault, including one case of rape.
Police in Hamburg say there was a series of similar incidents in the city’s Reeperbahn red-light area. Witnesses described groups of five to 15 men of who “hunted” women in the streets.
“Some girls were chased like cattle,” a 17-year-old woman told Bild newspaper. “I’m stunned that such a thing is possible in Hamburg. It makes you scared to celebrate in the neighbourhood.

Why did it take until yesterday, January fourth,  for news about this violence to appear in newspapers?  The most likely reason is that German authorities (police) and/or media feared provoking anti-refugee sentiment,  given that most refugees in Germany are of "Arab or North African appearance."

But to make that choice of censoring automatically implies a second simultaneous choice:  What happened to those women in Cologne and Hamburg and Stuttgart is not worth reporting; some other cause is more important than the well-being of women. *

And ultimately that policy of censoring is self-defeating.  It breeds distrust of the official news media, it provides more support for the anti-immigrant parties, and it is quite likely to create the impression that any such crimes swept under the carpet are bigger and more common than they actually are**.


*This is a real dilemma for those who support both women's rights and refugee rights, and I'm not belittling the importance of not provoking anti-refugee sentiment in Germany or elsewhere.  The vast majority of immigrants, migrants or refugees to Europe do not commit crimes, including crimes against women.

But it is naive to assume that Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, say,  would have exactly the  same views about how women should behave and how women behaving in certain ways can be treated as the average German does.

Germany may be a patriarchal country, but Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are vastly more so, and not planning for this difference in the education of refugees and migrants spells trouble.  As I've written before, people move with their values in their suitcases or backpacks, and an explicit unpacking of those patriarchal gender ideas is necessary.  Even when it is not sufficient, at least people are told what is against the law.

** For instance, the German police has stated that the most recent wave of refugees seems to have lower rates of crime than Germans on average.

(Now, should one trust that report?  See how the policy of censoring is a very very bad one.)

Monday, January 04, 2016

Start-Of-The-Year Post: On Shampoo Labels, Research Problems And On Alphas and Betas

Like a trial run, if you wish, to see if the gears are too rusty by now.

1.  I bought a new bottle of shampoo, not because the labels offer me chances for stupid posts (like this one)  but because I ran out of shampoo.

But the labels are fun.  The new bottle says "used by professionals," by which it probably doesn't mean engineers or lab analysts or flea trainers but hairdressers and barbers.  It fails to tell us if those professionals use this particular shampoo on their own heads or only on the heads of their customers, or if they wash floors with it.

The bottle then continues:  With Volume Control Complex.

Poor bottle.  I can't afford to send it with its complex to a shrink, but my hair doesn't have a lot of volume it needs to control.  Just enough to fill the various war helmets my Echidne role requires.  So we, the shampoo and I, should get on just fine, if I am gentle and understanding*.

2.  I should erase the above but I won't because this is my blog and you, sweet readers, don't pay me enough for the weird (though still ladylike) side of me to stay quiet.  Though my warm thanks to those of you who gave me year-end presents!

3.  This article is worth reading if you are interested in the difficulties of doing psychological research or if you are interested in having a critical-but-open-mind** about social science research.

The article is about oxytocin, but similar problems exist in many of the fields I follow:  the tendency to only publish positive findings while all the others are left in the file drawers, the actual meaning of statistical significance in many studies,  and the problems in getting studies reproduced, including some very famous ones.

Those are relevant worries for anyone who analyzes what research is popularized and why.  It's not sexy or click-breeding to write about earlier famous studies which turned out to be nothing at all, compared to some new hot-out-of-the-oven study which finally and conclusively explains how we are (using evolutionary psychology arguments, probably)!  Except that of course those earlier studies explained the very same thing.  Or thought they did.

4.  Finally, just a repeat reminder (from 2013) that alpha wolves do not exist in the wild.  Wolf packs are extended families, and the so-called alpha couple are just the parents of most of the wolves in the pack.

The repeat reminders are needed, because the alpha wolf idea has bred a whole Internet subculture around the thesis that some men are alphas (and keep large harems of beautiful women) while other men are betas (and never get to reproduce).  There are even how-to-books which purport to teach those poor beta guys how to pretend to be alpha and so to "fool" women into their beds.

The supposed basic theory*** derives from early studies of wolves under captivity (and therefore not in their natural habitat).  But the practice looks a lot more like hunting where women are viewed as prey animals.


*  Is shampoo necessary?  What would happen if I washed my tresses with soap?  Or with beer?  And why do I feel I'm lying when calling my hair "tresses?"

**  Imagine an open maw with sharp teeth.

*** Even if wolves in the wild behaved in the manner the early research supposed we shouldn't just draw equivalencies to humans because the species are pretty different.  But I've noticed that human borrowing from research into other animals is very selective, mostly to support traditional ideas humans already believe about homo sapiens.  An example can be found here, which was a response to this post.