Thursday, May 12, 2016

On High Heels And Other Clothing Coded As Female

Richard Stainthorp's  wire sculpture (hat tip to Rabih Alameddine) makes the pain of very high heels visceral:  Ouch!

High heels are almost compulsory in fashion photographs, even so high heels that nobody could run in them should a saber-tooth tiger attack.  The reason is that they make women's legs look longer and tilt their butts to an inviting angle (for saber-tooth tigers?).

Many items of clothing which are intended to signal female gender hurt*.  Think of girdles which American women wore until fairly recently, think of Victorian corsets, think of those high-heeled shoes, think of dresses as tight as fish skin or belts pulled so small that the stomach commits suicide.  All those are intended to showcase female beauty.

From the other end, modesty clothes (to hide female beauty),  long dresses, niqabs or face veils, abayas or long cloaks,  hurt in a different way.  Abayas are stifling in hot climates, their bagginess means that they can catch on things which can result in accidents, and burqas, say, make women likely to stumble because they restrict vision .  Hearing is harder through several layers of fabric, too.  And in the colonial America women's long dresses could catch fire in the kitchens.

What both the "revealing" and the "covering" female-coded clothing share is that they make it much harder for someone to be physically active.   A woman or a girl cannot run in them, she cannot play soccer in them, she cannot climb a tree in them.  Even knee-length dresses make that tree climbing impossible, if anyone can look up that dress. 

Is it female passivity that these gender-coded clothes are intended to promote**?

Never mind.  No laws currently require American women and girls to wear girdles or high-heeled shoes or abayas, and it can be fun to take a little bit of pain when dressing up for a wild party.

But not all women on this earth are in an equally free position when it comes to their clothing.  Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have laws which stipulate that all women inside their country's borders must wear the government's approved version of Islamic dress, including women who are not Muslims.

And then there's this recent British case:

A receptionist claims she was sent home from work at a corporate finance company after refusing to wear high heels.
Nicola Thorp, 27, from Hackney in east London, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

Thorp, who was employed as a temporary worker by PwC’s outsourced reception firm Portico, said she was laughed at when she said the demand was discriminatory and sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels.
Thorp found out that nothing in the British laws stops firms from requiring that their female workers wear high heels***.  I wonder if a British firm could demand that its male workers wear, say,  codpieces?  They don't seem to have the health risks  that high heels do, after all.  And I think they would look great!

Please support this blog.  It's the fund-raising week and I promise I won't spend the money on clothing.

*  This tends not to be the case for clothing intended to show that someone is male, though men's business uniform (suit, tie, clunky dark shoes etc.) might be more restricting today than the equivalent women's business uniform (unless high heels are required).

That is an exception to the rule.  In my opinion the reason is that the male business suit has not changed for roughly a century.  When it was first created it was considerably more comfortable than female clothing of the era.  But in the West women's clothes have changed a lot during those hundred years, while men's business suits have not.

**  And if so, was it always the case?  In the medieval era European women and men dressed more alike than they did for several centuries afterwards, with both sexes wearing tunic-type outfits.  Women's tunics were longer than men's tunics, but close enough in style so that medieval wills sometimes leave clothing to individuals who are not the same sex as the person who made the will.  I believe that it was the available technology and the great expense of cloth that caused this similarity.  Gender was signaled by head-dresses and jewelry, not by most clothing. 

It is only recently that the everyday clothing of the sexes has once again become pretty similar.

*** She launched a petition to change this.

Funding Week: Thursday

This is the week I ask for money to pay the piper.  Please donate!  The button is on the left and you will feel so good afterwards!

I serve a unique niche in the blog marketplace:  The super-smart and super-nice individuals!  That's the honey to attract you.  The vinegar would be that I can't go on doing this without the expenses being paid.

Thank you!  Here's a bleeding heart for you:

This is the white form of Dicentra spectabilis, from my gardenIf you pick one of the flowers, turn it upside down and pull outwards from the little wings, you will see a little lady sitting in a bathtub!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Time To Prune Those Hedges. Not A Gardening Post.

The UK Guardian tells us that

The world’s top 25 hedge fund managers earned $13bn last year – more than the entire economies of Namibia, the Bahamas or Nicaragua.
And last year was a bad year for hedge funds!  What miraculous skills those 25 men (no women in the top 25 list)  must have to be worth more than whole countries!  And what on earth can you do with so much money?  Buy political influence?

Hedge fund managers are indeed blessed.  In the US they even get to pay income tax  at a lower rate:

Many hedge funds are structured to take advantage of carried interest. Under this structure, a fund is treated as a partnership. The founders and fund managers are the general partners, while the investors are the limited partners. The founders also own the management company that runs the hedge fund. The managers earn the 20% performance fee of the carried interest as the general partner of the fund. 
Hedge fund managers are compensated with this carried interest; their income from the fund is taxed as a return on investments as opposed to a salary or compensation for services rendered. The incentive fee is taxed at the long-term capital gains rate of 20% as opposed to ordinary income tax rates, where the top rate is 39.6%. This represents significant tax savings for hedge fund managers.
It also represents a significant hole in the government's tax revenue, compared to what those revenues would be if ordinary income tax rates were used, and that hole is patched up by taxing others more and/or by slashing various government projects.

This is wrong.


But donating money to this blog is not wrong!  


Funding Week: Tuesday. On the Monster Spirea.

This is the week to fill my coffers with money.  You would smirk if you knew how little the total amount is that I need, how easily you could afford to help me reach it.

It is to you, my erudite and kind readers, that I turn to when I need my blogging expenses covered:  the need for a large-screen computer and an ergonomic keyboard, the fees I pay to get access to various data sources and the chocolate that fuels the work.

So please pay the piper.  If you are really low in money send praise instead.  Us divines like praise and prayer, right?  The PayPal button is in the left column.  My thanks!

In other news, I have been cleaning out the "gardens" I used to have before I became addicted to running this blog.  Here's a picture of how they once looked, with the bonus of two very loving dogs (Henrietta the Hound and Hank the Chocolate Lab, both now spirit dogs):

But this story is not about the dead gardens (for dead they are). 

It is a story about a small shrub, called Spirea japonica 'Shirobana'.  The shrub came with the house, so I didn't choose it.  But it never grew taller than three feet, never suffered from any pests of diseases, always bravely produced the ghastly combination of its flowers and in general behaved so well that I let it be despite those ghastly flowers.

And my reward for that?  Finding last summer that the shrub had sent suckers everywhere.  I had over one hundred baby Spireas (counted them while pulling them out) in what some might euphemistically call my lawn, and several fairly large teenager Spireas in the areas of the yard where the soil is good.

The time for a Spirea death sentence had arrived.  It shouldn't be too hard to dig up a shrub never reaching more than three feet in height, right?  Just get your spades and shovels and axes and root cutters all together and prepare for half an hour of arduous work.

Wrong.  The killing of the Spirea took almost a week and lots of helpers contributed.  That's because what was under the ground matched that sucker spread above the ground, not the size of the original parent bush. 

Some of the roots were thicker than my wrists, and however deep I dug I always found another layer of roots.   (You should have seen me work on it a few days ago, by the way, in a drizzling rain.  I had dirt smears all over my face and mud everywhere else because the shrub fought back so hard, making me fall on my butt several times.)

I still feel guilty about killing a perfectly healthy plant, indeed an energetic plant.  Maybe I should offer it to someone I dislike so that it can continue living?

Is this a metaphor about politics, you might ask, bored to the gills by this gardening lady story. 

Yup.  By the time you see some innocent-looking, well-groomed politician saying the most awful, ghastly things, the network supporting that person is already everywhere (school boards, local governments, think tanks).


Monday, May 09, 2016

This Is Quite Wonderful: Aristotle on Trolling

In the Journal of the American Philosophical Association Rachel Barney of the University of Toronto writes about Internet trolls.  You can download the whole short article on the linked page.

A few snippets:

That trolling is a shameful thing, and that no one of sense would accept to be called ‘troll’, all are agreed; but what trolling is, and how many its species are, and whether there is an excellence of the troll, is unclear.
And this is how the troll generates strife. For what he indicates is known to be false or harmful or ignorant; but he does not say that thing, but rather something close. In this way he retains the possibility of denial, and the skilled troll is always surprised and hurt, or seems to be, when the others take his comments up. And so he sets the community apart from each other, and introduces strife where before there was scarcely disagreement.

So lovely!   I haven't met many trolls of such excellence, though maybe the ones who do circular debating* qualify as examples.  Still, wouldn't it be quite wonderful if all trolls were so skilled, assuming that they, like death and taxes, are unavoidable.

*  I used to get my exercise from circular debating with trolls.  The nature of those is of a perfect circle, starting and ending at the same place, and that place is the troll's first assertion (A) which pops right back after some minor Greek goddess has spent hours bringing up evidence first against A, then its mutated form B, then a sidestep argument (C) etc., all the way to assertion Z.

It took me a while to realize that this exercise was not a debate but just a bizarre form of trollish entertainment.

The picture is of a Scandinavian troll doll, probably having nothing to do with the etymology of Internet trolling.  But the hair is good, almost Trumpian!

PS:  Don't forget that it's my fund-raising week...

Funding Week: Monday

I traditionally extort money from my readers in May, and this is the week.  If you would like to support my research and writing costs (and provide me with chocolate, one of the necessary nutrients), you can click on the PayPal Donate-button in the left column.  The lump-sum donations give me a better net yield, but the monthly donations might be gentler with you.  As always, do not feel that you have to give if you are poor.  My sincere thanks go to all of you who read this blog and to all of you who help me run it.

About the book project*, because you deserve to know: 

I finished the first draft of the book two years ago.  Then I sat on it.  Well, not the book but the project, largely because life and several family deaths and illnesses intervened, but also because I was very very stupid and simply assumed that the rules for non-fiction books are the same as for fiction books, i.e., write the book first and then flog it. 

It turns out that this is not the case, that I should pretend I haven't yet written anything but a proposal. 

This proposal, together with about 10,000 pages of other stuff (how wonderful I am, how many readers I could provide with the flick of my fingers, why this particular book would beat all other books in a wild boxing match, why any thinking reader would ever wish to pay to read it,  what my great-great-grandmother's favorite dish was and so on and so on), should be sent to various university-linked** publishers, but only to one at a time.

The selected publisher would then sit on the package from several months to a year.  Should that publisher not like the proposal, it could be sent to a different publisher, only the different publisher wants a different set of those 10,000 pages (perhaps something about the great-uncle Ilmari's second name being Donatus and how often I floss my fangs), but the same several-months-to-a-year of musing time.  And so it goes.

Because this particular book will never provide me with retirement income and because I already have read it, the incentives to work on all that self-marketing just weren't there***.  But now I have printed out the first draft chapters and might update and polish them and perhaps make them available to those who are interested in the topic.

* The topic is how psychological, sociological and some medical research about women, in particular,  and gender, in general,  is popularized, what biases are visible in those popularizations and how they affect what gets dragged out into the limelight and what gets hidden, as well as what we ultimately "learn." 

**  I began this search by looking for an agent (those individualized 10,000 page-long packages were required for that, too), and I was told by two of them that although they liked my proposal it would be better suited to a university press than the commercial marketplace.  Which was a lovely way of rejecting the proposal.

***  And also because I am weird.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mothers' Day. Echidne Thoughts.

1.  This video (in Finnish, but simple enough to follow without knowing the language) shows how one folds a bed sheet before putting it in a mangle.  The attached story notes that the tradition of the M-fold of the sheets is found only in some countries in Northern Europe.  The Finns have it, the Germans have it, but the Swedes do not have it.  I doubt that the custom is especially Lutheran, even though the article suggests that theory, because then the Swedes should have it, too.

My maternal grandmother taught me the M-fold.  When I moved abroad I assumed that any helper (the second person needed for the tugging) would know how to fold a sheet properly!  And none of them did. 

Cultural customs are odd.  People seem to believe that their cultural customs are the only natural way to do something!  Country-hopping of the kind I have done should kill that belief very quickly, and I thought it had done this for me.  But my assumptions about the M-fold tells me that I'm better at noticing some culture-dependent customs (about sexism, say) faster than other customs.

The point of this story is about knowledge, the way it is informally passed on by our parents, often by our mothers, and how we forget who passed the knowledge on.   Who taught you to cook?  Who taught you how to use the washing machine?  Who taught you to brush your teeth?