Sunday, August 23, 2009

Misandry in the New York Times

So I was reading the New York Times Magazine, as I am wont to do of a Sunday afternoon, when I came across this interview with the president of Liberia. This being the issue of the Times Magazine devoted to women's rights, I suppose blatant misandry was to be expected.

I'd like to take a moment to point out to you just how pervasive these ideas about the "nature" of men as aggressive and hostile are: they can be published in a news source like the New York Times with nary an eye batted. A direct quote, with President Sirleaf's responses in italics:

Yes, there's that recent case in Phoenix, Ariz., where an 8-year-old Liberian refugee was raped by four Liberian boys, only to have her parents initially shut her out of the house.
We have asked our ambassador to work with the family to see that the child is put in some protective shelter for a while. Also, we think the boys need counseling because during the years of war, morality and discipline and legality all broke down. It made these young people men before their time.

What does that say about the inherent character of men?
I just think that unless you have that cohesiveness in the family unit, the male character tends to become very dominant, repressive and insensitive. So much of this comes also from a lack of education. As more men become more educated and women get educated, the value system has to be more enhanced and the respect for human dignity and human life is made better.

Once you ask that question, you've answered it. Four war-torn boys perform a crime- four boys at the extremity of human ability to cope- and this is supposed to speak to the inherent character of men. Why the inherent character of men and not of people? Her parents, both male and female, shut her out. Does that speak to the inherent quality of parents? Of mothers? Of people?

I do have to give the president credit for pointing out both that the boys came from a horrific background themselves, and that the solution is education. Her responses to other questions indicates to me that her attitude towards the "character of men" is not that it is so much inherent as learned: she blames male insensitivity on a lack of cohesiveness in the family unit, and concedes that if women were given absolute power, over a long period of time they would "become men."

Still, this Deborah Solomon interviewer person is on my short list.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The "Problem" with Women's Magazines

The problem with women's magazines is not that they feed women double-talk about whether we should feel shame about our bodies. "Celebrate your cellulite! But quick, here's a cream to get rid of it!"

The problem with women's magazines is that they work. People devour these things. They love to be told they're ugly, they relish the idea of "quick fixes" to make them beautiful, and they love ripping apart celebrities for the crime of falling just short of perfect. Women's magazines wouldn't exist, let alone flourish, if people didn't want this stuff.

That's the disease. Women's magazines are the symptom.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Elementary Schools and the Modern Workplace: Food for Thought

Everyone knows about the wage gap, and everyone knows that it sucks. Some people know about the performance gap that's rising between boys and girls in schools, with more girls now graduating from high school, college, graduate school, and so on. Girls are also performing better on all sorts of aptitude tests as far back as elementary school. The question is: why?

I posit that the wage gap is in some part due to the actual structure of the standard workplace. Things that are rewarded include working fulltime (as opposed to part time), working overtime, not taking time off, and asking for pay raises. It evolved over many years in a male-dominated workforce, with men in positions of power, and as a result, it's not well-suited for people who don't behave in the same standard male way. For whatever reasons, be they social, biological or both, women are less likely to do these things that would raise their salaries than men are: they tend to value their time at home more, are more likely to call in sick, and tend to feel uncomfortable asking for pay raises. The system that is in place is ill-suited for women workers, and women workers are ill-suited for the system that is in place. (Note also that young women workers, before child-rearing age, actually make more than men nowadays in a lot of circumstances.)

Similarly, elementary schools are nowadays largely populated by women teachers. Encouraged behaviors include sitting still and quietly for long periods of time, learning things through worksheets and lecture rather than through labs and hands-on workshops, collaborating rather than competing, and so on. These are things that, for whatever reasons, are easier for little girls. Perhaps the gender gap in school performance and the gender gap in salary have similar roots? Some schools have already started examining this possibility. I have high hopes.

"Anti-feminist Bingo."

This is "anti-feminist bingo." When having a feminist conversation with someone who "just doesn't get it," or in other words does not agree with the author, you are supposed to whip out this card and check off all the statements that your opponent has said. It is my opinion that precisely this author's attitude that leads towards a lot of the statements on the anti-feminist bingo card. Let's take a gander:

Before we even get to the Bingo card, the author says: "If you're a man trying not to be an arsehole in feminist conversations, but you seem to find yourself floundering and can't figure out why, you might like to scrutinise your comments critically to see if some of these messages are inadvertently coming across."

Clearly only men can be arseholes in a feminist conversation, because women are imbued with a natural inclination towards being good feminists. We're all just so supportive of our sisters, always! This is why women in the office do much better when they don't have a female boss, and why female directors in the theater biz are so much harsher on women playwrights than male directors. Women bosses are more likely to advance men over women than men bosses are. What the hell.

I count nine out of twenty-five statements that are not in fact "anti-feminist" in any way:

"But I like my women feminine!" Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion about what traits they find attractive. Women spend a lot of time saying that they like their men some way or another, and feminists do not give them shit for it.
"Feminists have got it all wrong. I'm an equalist." In a lot of ways, I agree with this. "Feminism," theoretically, is the system of beliefs that women should have equal rights as men. That's not what the feminist movement is about anymore: now Western feminists are concerned with equal social treatment of women and the removal of social stigma surrounding women, which is- I'm just going to come right out and say it- not sufficient to remove sexism, genderism, or what have you. I see precious few feminists (but bless the precious few) who actually make a fuss about men being portrayed as big stupid lugs in the media, but I fail to see how that is any less important than women being portrayed as sex objects for the ultimate end goal of eradicating sexism.
"It's your job to teach me about feminism. Now do it." If you are having a conversation with someone about feminist issues, you are taking an authority position, and you are claiming that they "do not get it," then you have put yourself in a teaching position. You might notice that your "student" is not willing to learn, and that might be because you're refusing to talk to them on the level, probably claiming that as a woman you have a monopoly on gender issues and that he is being an "arsehole."
"Patriarchy hurts men too." It does. This is a common bone that feminists throw to men's rights activists and equalists who frequent the feminist blogosphere when they try to bring up men as victims of gender discrimination.
"Women just can't be objective about gender issues." NO, they can't! No one can! So, how does it make sense to give women the monopoly on gender issues, if they only represent one gender?
"You give feminists a bad name." Yes, author of this article, you do. You really, really do.
"You feminists all hate men!" While I would not put this on this list normally, after reading this post (particularly the quoted sentence at the top o' the page and the sexist assumption later down that only women can be raped and that only men can be rapists), I can definitely see where someone would get that idea after talking with you.
"I'll tell you what's wrong with feminism..." You know, it's possible, sometimes, for you to be wrong, author of this article. Please, instead of being frustrated that someone "does not get it," listen to them. They might be saying something that you've never thought of before.
"But I want to talk about this. Listen to me!" Isn't that exactly what you're saying? Yes. I thought so.

I wish people thought a little bit more about what they were saying sometimes.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Men in Power"

I came across this Tribune article about the new University of Chicago "Men in Power" group a few days ago. When I first saw it, I thought: "Oh! Isn't this cute. I bet the University of Chicago, being an extremely liberal environment, might be ready for a group like this!" and then I thought nothing more of it. I sent it to my gentleman friend, who said something along the lines of "Oh, Feministing did an article on that," and when I asked for the link, he gave it to me. My OpenID through LiveJournal apparently doesn't work on Feministing (I've had this error before, and apparently it's still not been fixed), so the only way I can respond is here.

That Feministing article hurt. I honestly expected more from Feministing. I expected an intelligent discussion of what it means for feminism, why the author does or does not support the group, and thoughts about the future of gender equalism movements. Instead, I read a character attack on the founder. How is responding to the community's needs not humble, authentic or empathetic? This man did not write the article actually intending to make such a group, but he realized after the response that he got that it was his responsibility to do so.

A little background might help. I grew up in the neighborhood of the University of Chicago, I attended its attached preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school, my sister and I have both taken several classes there, and I have friends who go there. Both my parents are graduates. I am pretty familiar with the culture, and I can tell you that it's liberal. Extremely liberal. Acceptance and support of feminist ideas, if not self-identification as a feminist, is practically a given. And beyond the University, the neighborhood of Hyde Park is a liberal activist neighborhood. It's no surprise that Obama chose to make his home here.

If there is anywhere in the country that feminism can be said to have "worked," destroying male privilege, I would argue that it is small liberal-arts colleges and universities. While this might not be true of the country at large, America is not a monolith of culture, and we have to assume that there will be places where certain groups have privileges that they might not elsewhere.

Honestly, can't we give feminism some credit? Having grown up in this environment and shipping myself off to another small liberal-arts college, I can tell you that I have never, ever felt oppressed or discriminated against or anything of the sort. I have experienced the exact opposite, being encouraged sometimes through the actual curriculum of the school- particularly in Humanities classes- to celebrate the triumphs of women over men. I don't think my experience was unique, either, because it appears that girls now outperform boys at most levels of education and are more likely to graduate from secondary school.

My point here is that whatever might have been the case in the past does not mean that it is the case now. At least in some environments, feminism works. The new generation of women who grew up in these environments and go to these colleges and so on nowadays do not suffer the same trials and tribulations that past generations of women did. Just because the older generations have not achieved this does not mean that it is not the case for the youngest generations. Not all women are victims of patriarchy, because patriarchy is an overly simplistic term when applied to the entirety of Western culture or even to the entirety of American society. And if we accept that not all women are victims- that in some places, there are other privileges that might surpass that of gender in strength, or that in some places there are no privileges based on gender, or even that in some places gender privilege is reversed- then we have to accept that in some places, men do need solidarity groups like this.

Even if you disagree with the premise of the group, which as far as I can tell is to provide support and solidarity for men in the same way that women's groups provide those things for women, to bring speakers onto campus to discuss gender issues, and to reach out to the community and help underachieving boys and men by giving them positive role models, consider what its existence means for the progress of feminism.

First, it means that gender privilege has been erased in this environment to the point that there is sufficient interest in supporting men as a minority or underserved group, even if that is not true in the country at large. This group started as a joke. The leader of the group (who is not a very good speaker, it sadly appears) wrote a satirical article for the Maroon (the U of C's newspaper), and received a number of emails from University of Chicago students who took it quite seriously and thought that there was indeed a need for such a group on campus. Personally I don't think this is such a stretch. Here at Vassar, we have a women's health clinic with several doctors and nurses, but only one male doctor in the entire health facilities who is only a part-time employee. If you have a problem under your boxers and you don't feel comfortable exposing yourself to a nurse, or if you're having a problem with your penis and you need a male specialist, good luck getting an appointment. I've heard that this discrepancy is because of demand, but who puts demand forward? Advocacy groups, that's who. Women have an advocacy group on this campus who can ensure that that they're properly treated by health services, but men do not. Is there a male gender privilege here?

Second, it means that feminism has encouraged gender dismantling to the point that such a support group is not a distasteful idea to men. Isn't one hypermasculine trait supposed to be the ability to bear hardship with a stiff upper lip and fight your own battles if there are battles to be fought? I would think the macho response to perceived inequity would not be to form a girly support group but to start breaking things and setting fire to them. That this group exists and is supported by the male element should indicate some triumph for feminism, if feminism is fighting against negative judgment based on feminine characteristics.

The progress of feminism aside, I actually think the group is pretty cute and I like the idea. Why does gender stereotype dismantling have to come from women, or on women's terms? If Patriarchy Hurts Men Too, what's the big idea denying men the ability to address their own issues their own way? Feminist organizations often fail to address many elements of gender stereotypes that disproportionately harm men, such as the assumption of a nurturing, kind nature in women. Male rape is a problem, but not everyone seems to even realize it's possible. News articles discussing molestation of children by women often refer to the molestation as an "affair" or a "relationship" rather than "rape." Children are taught to gravitate towards "nurturing" women and away from "dangerous" men. When two teenagers have sex, even if it should legally be rape because the male was sufficiently younger than the female, he still often bears legal responsibility for sex or she is not prosecuted. Even college administrators have started to notice men falling behind. Men are more likely to have grave occupational hazards because they're more likely to be blue-collar workers (such as construction workers) and have been hit much harder by the recession than women. Nowhere is the importance of advocacy groups more obvious than reverse sexist advertisements (British example), but rarely do I see advocacy groups for men supported by other gender equalists or thriving.

Even though these are stereotypes and problems that should theoretically be feminist issues if feminism is all about gender equality, I don't see the feminist blogosphere up in arms about these issues. Please, do correct me if I'm wrong here. I would love to be.

If feminist groups aren't going to address these issues, then they ought to band together with groups who will, since they're both heading towards the same goal: gender equality.

Before I finish, a note on the name. The hugest complaints I've heard about the group are about its name. Realize that the name was birthed in satire. I don't think it's inappropriate to discuss gender issues starting with a discussion of the widely-held assumption that men are in power. Why would it be?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Wage Gap

I was reading this article about the wage gap today, and was thoroughly unsatisfied by its treatment of the wage gap and the possible causes for it. While it claims to address and refute the reasons pundits often give to "excuse" the wage gap, I found it lacking. It correctly summarized its opposition with the following four points (I found the others to be extraneous and not common in my readings of the literature).

1) Women voluntarily take lower-paying jobs than men.
Women do, in fact, voluntarily take lower-paying jobs than men do. This is usually because those jobs offer benefits other than pay that they find attractive, such as job security, health benefits, part-time status and the freedom to take off time from work to spend with family. Study after study has shown this. The writer does not refute this point, commenting only: "While its true that, say, a registered nurse doesn't make as much as a lawyer, these are all highly professionalized fields. Each requires at least four years of schooling and almost all require some kind of specialized training."

2) Women "take time off" to have children
The quotes here are meant to indicate that women have no choice but to take time off for pregnancy and birth. This is quite true. Maternity laws in this country suck- no argument here!

3) Women don't ask for better pay
Unfortunately, this is true. A lot of wage raises are negotiated by the employee aggressively asking the employer for a pay raise. Women, for whatever social or biological reason, are less inclined to do this than men. They are more easily intimidated by employers and less likely to think that they "deserve" a better pay.

4) Women have family and household responsibilities (and presumably men don't)
The argument here is that women spend time taking care of the family- and employers should expect that and give them time for it. Here, I think the argument is somewhat flawed. No logical employer is going to pay someone who works less time as much as someone who works more time, regardless of gender. As long as some employees are willing to work 9-5 every day and overtime on some days and some weekends, that's what the employers are going to want and that's what they're going to reward and encourage. Unfortunately, women are the ones hurt hardest by this, because women are more likely to take time off work to take care of children and sick relatives, more likely to use up their sick days, and less likely to work overtime than men are.

The questions we should be asking in response to this situation are "Why is the workplace set up the way that it is?" and "How can we encourage them to become more androgynous?" rather than "How can we force employers to meet the unique needs of female employees?" As we all know, the workplace evolved as a space for men only- male workers who were sole breadwinners within particular social roles. As a result, the current model for companies is set up to maximize productivity from people who are sole breadwinners and not caretakers. If we remove this assumption, the rest follows easily.

In answer to the first objection, the draws for women to lower-paying jobs appear to be health care, freedom to take time off and part-time status. Frankly, these are all good reasons to pay an employee less. The more health benefits, the less money the company actually has for salaries; the more time the employee is free to take off, the less guaranteed productivity the employer has; and having a larger sheer number of part-time employees who all have benefits is more costly to employers than employing a smaller number of full-time workers. However, the benefits for the workers are obviously enormous. Health care is expensive, and the extra time afforded by not working can allow the employee to either hold another job or spend priceless time with the family. These are non-monetary trade-offs that the current system for determining the wage gap does not take into consideration, and which I believe it should.

The second objection points to a more obvious problem. In a lot of careers, taking any time off at all means that you literally lose market value as an employee. Parents of both sexes should be allowed to take time off for childbirth and early childhood development. Other countries have already recognized the rights of parents to a family. Giving a month or less to pregnant women treats children as a sort of tumor to be removed before the employee can get on with her job. If the workforce is actually going to try to integrate caretakers, employers will have to assume that parents of both sexes will want to take time off to care for the child during its first formative months, and will have to accord them this time.

Unfortunately, the third objection is a good one. The system of negotiation for better pay is one that was evolved during the workforce's all-male history. Competition and fights for dominance simply come more naturally to a majority of men than women, for whatever social or biological reasons. And unfortunately, there really is no reason why negotiating for better pay should result in a wage increase. Enforcing employer-decided pay is the only solution that I can think of to this problem.

The fourth objection rests on society at large to change, not on the workplace. So long as there are employees of whatever gender who are willing to work more hours, employers will try to push employees towards that ideal. If women are to gain ground in this arena, society has to change to allow men to take on caretaker roles without derision. Stay-at-home dads are objects of ridicule. If feminists is to help women in this arena, they've got to widen their vision and stop focusing on women. Or a different take, if you don't like that one: Single mothers are significantly more common than single fathers, and do in fact have more family and household responsibilities than other male employees who either do not have families or are not the sole parent. While it is unfair to employers to force them to pay these mothers the same amount that they would employees who do not have these large family time requirements, the government is perfectly capable of providing tax breaks for the number of dependents and the lack of a spouse- which, if I'm not mistaken, it does. I would personally be curious to see how the increase in non-taxable wages as opposed to taxable wages changes the wage gap between single mothers and the average male employee, but I don't know of any studies that have addressed this. A change in government policy could easily help here, in any case.

These reasons for the wage gap are explanations, not excuses. My main fault with this article was that it assumed the former meant the latter. Explaining the mechanism does not excuse the result, but it does allow us and policymakers to examine the system more closely, determine whether policies need to be changed, and if so which ones. Most of the wage gap can actually be explained by these four points- the real question is, how can we change policy to alter families' situations that led to those four points?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


It's extremely important to investigate any and all rape charges. It's important to treat all claims as serious until they have been properly investigated. But it is also important to prevent people from taking advantage of the gravity of these charges by holding them accountable for repeated false accusations.

A false accusation once? All right, everyone makes mistakes.

Twice? Maybe you should have learned your lesson.

Three times? Shouldn't some sort of charges be brought up against this person? Isn't this slander?

Rape accusations are serious. They are serious because they need to be. But to take advantage of this by ruining the lives of men with whom one has had a falling out as this woman did accomplishes two things: it acts effectively as slander, sometimes haunting the men for years after the fact, and it lowers the credibility of other women whose complaints are valid. Slander is a crime. False complaints are a crime. Why isn't this woman being prosecuted?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the Name and Nature of "Feminism"

Something rubs me the wrong way about "feminism". The quotes, by the way, denote the word and its definition, not necessarily the movements attached, because so many movements attach the word "feminism" to them that I cannot possibly make a statement about "all feminists" or "feminism on the whole," only about the word and the philosophical meaning behind it.

Isn't one of the problems with kyriarchy the assumption that men are "the norm" and women deviations? Isn't that the problem with most medical studies, which test medications on males (be they human, rodent or otherwise) and then extend the findings to women, treating the problems that invariably arise as "special cases"?

Then isn't it likewise a problem to fight for women to "have equal political, social, sexual, intellectual and economic rights to men"? Doesn't that assume that how men are treated is "the norm" and how women are treated is a deviation? I skim Feministing, Womanist Musings and likewise every now and again, and I see a lot of "women are treated in this way, which is a deviation." For example: Women scientists are treated differently from men scientists, being told that they ought to devote their time to raising a family. Thus, the treatment of women scientists is a deviation, and they should be treated like how men scientists are treated- ie, encouraged to throw their chances for a family life away in order to pursue their career goals. These are two extremes. One encourages a person to pursue their career at any cost, the other encourages a person to pursue family life at any cost. Which one is a deviation from the norm? What is the "norm"? Why is it how men are treated, and not how women are?

Wiktionary has a much better definition of "feminism": "A social theory or political movement supporting the equality of both sexes in all aspects of public and private life; specifically, a theory or movement that argues that legal and social restrictions on females must be removed in order to bring about such equality." Still, though, this assumes female life as a deviation from male life. Men have both restrictions and liberties bestowed upon them by kyriarchy, just as women do. (For example: Men cannot show emotions but are excused for violent behavior, while women are trusted less with authority positions but are excused for flippant or irrational behavior.) Shouldn't a movement supporting the equality of all sexes in all aspects of public and private life seek to remove the legal and social restrictions and liberties forced upon both genders? Who's to say that one is a deviation from the norm and the other isn't?

Has anyone else noticed this, or is it just me? And: does it matter?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

False Rape Accusations Hurt Rape Victims Too

I was reading this article about a man whose false rape accusation got him evicted, banned from his college's campus, and lost him his source of income and student loans. His photo was distributed in local media and posted campus-wide. The woman, even though after investigation it became obvious that she had fabricated the entire event to fool her mother, received no punishment, and so the man is suing her for $30,000.

These are the things that I see wrong with this situation:

1) This woman abused a system in place to help victims, thereby damaging the reputation of other legitimate victims who might need to use those services and face skepticism because of women like her.
2) There are no checks and balances in this system to keep such a thing from happening. As soon as the accusation went out, this man lost everything. He was guilty until proven innocent, which is (in theory) not how the legal system works in this country. Keeping someone in jail until innocence is reaffirmed is one thing; losing him his future is another.
3) This woman was probably terrified by society and what have you to have her mother find out she had had sex. While that is an unfair pressure that is often put on women, this woman thought it would somehow be "better" to have been raped than to have had consensual sex. That is so unbelievably demeaning to people who have actually felt violated by sex, it boggles the mind.

At least the man is fighting back.

I hope for a future in which sex is less stigmatized, so people in this woman's position feel neither the need to cry "rape!" to justify sex nor the need to stay silent about it. But I also hope for a future in which obviously rape accusations like this that are punishable. Slander is not okay.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Manipulative Mommies

"If men aren't responsible about their own contraception, they are laying themselves open to manipulation by women." Doesn't that sound a little like "If you're not responsible about what you wear and where you're walking late at night, you're laying yourself open to rape"? This is why we need a male birth control pill, people. Manipulating a man on a one-night stand while he's drunk and horny doesn't excuse you from MANIPULATING him into fathering your child.

Consequences: Should manipulated fathers be required to pay child support? Does this attitude (which some men have come to fear and stereotype women as having) hurt women like me who are "honestly" promiscuous? Should whether the father was inebriated at the time matter for his legal paternal responsibilities? Does this attitude act in the interest of women, or against us?


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does Sociobiology Say Nice Guys Finish Last?

According to Pandagon, yes it does. She goes so far as to say that sociobiologists (e.g. evolutionary psychologists) are all just Nice Guys who can't seem to grasp that women have thoughts and feelings and free will like anyone else. This is an extremely common misconception of sociobiology, so I suppose I shouldn't blame Pandagon for not looking up a little about the field she's relentlessly bashing.

First off: Sociobiology does not say that all behaviors must be instinctual in order to be selected for. Sociobiology does not in any way imply that women are instinctual beasts driven only by whatever behaviors are innate. Sociobiology says this: Under the assumption that all traits are genetically mediated, including behaviors. It follows then that human behaviors must all be genetically mediated, and since all behaviors are genetically mediated, the ones that we ended up with were probably selected for at some point. Sociobiology tests hypotheses about those selection pressures.

So, the eagerness (and capacity!) to internalize social rules must be genetically mediated and therefore "instinctual" in some way, and natural selection can act on the capacity to learn behaviors based on those social rules just as it can act on instinctual behaviors themselves. What matters for natural selection is whether those behaviors or the capacity to learn ones like them were present while our species was evolving (or are present while we are evolving, depending on your opinion).

Pandagon makes a couple of ridiculous assumptions that I cannot let slide. First, she assumes that women and men have the same reproductive stakes. If this is the case, then as she says, it's worthwhile to say that proving women prefer men in higher tax brackets is the same as saying that women earn less. This is not the case. A woman's stake in her reproductive success is extremely high: she can only produce a certain number of offspring in her lifetime. A man's is extremely low: he can impregnate a woman a day.

Second, she assumes that all societies are patriarchies, and thus that women's preference for wealthy men across cultures proves only this first point. Even if every society in the world were a strict patriarchy, in order for this to be the case, we would have to see men being favored more or less according to their wealth ONLY as a product of the strictness of the patriarchy. Note here that social status has been divorced from wealth: a high-status noble who owns no land would gain no benefit, while a low-status upstart with a large tract of land would have his pick of the ladies. Social stratification in countless societies does not support this.

Third, she assumes that sociobiologists negate the possibility of social status, brains, and other useful things traveling through the female line. Social status is a hot topic for sociobiologists. One measure of it just happens to be wealth. And time and time again it has been proved that individuals with higher social status tend to have more offspring, who tend to have more offspring.

On that vein, Pandagon talks about a plethora of studies that equate "number of sexual partners" to "reproductive success", which is a holdout from oldschool evolutionary theory. Nowadays, evolutionary scientists of all flavors, including psychological, discuss "reproductive success" as any number of things: the number of your surviving grandchildren, the number of your fertile offspring, and the number of individuals in the next generation who contain some of your genes are some popular ones. Sheer number of sexual partners will not necessarily be correlated with a woman's reproductive success, because having sex with a lot of men might actually not result in more children than having sex with the same man over a long period of time. Also, having a lot of children and abandoning them will not result in more children reaching fertility, while having children who are supported by the additional resources of a father contributing to their upbringing will most likely result in more children reaching fertility, especially in an evolutionary setting where survival is not aided by welfare stamps and the foster care system.

Intriguingly, if you look at "reproductive success" through this lens, you might expect that being a proper nice guy and contributing more to your lady even if you haven't got as many resources overall would end up with more babies with your genes being born into the next generation. And if that's a strategy that works, it might explain the proliferance of pantomimes, the "Nice Guys (tm)", that poor Pandagon fears are controlling the field of sociobiology.

And remember, folks, just because a gene or set of genes was selected for doesn't mean a) everyone has it, b) it's going to be expressed the same way in modern times as it was in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (which is a proper term in sociobiology, I swear), or c) it's the only strategy to reproductive success. Just because something is genetically "mediated" does not mean it is genetically "determined."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Definition of Sexism

Before I get too far, I should offer a definition of "sexism," because I use both this term and "reverse sexism" in situations where one sex is being favored over the other.

What I mean by "sexism" is "an institutionalized system of privileges and rights granted preferentially based on sex." Whatever is more prevalent in an institutionalized system is termed "sexist," and reactions to that are "reverse sexism." So, because "sexism" is traditionally discriminatory towards women, I use "sexism" to mean "favoring men" and "reverse sexism" to mean "favoring women." Hopefully soon I won't be able to distinguish whether I should be using "sexism" to mean "favoring men" or "favoring women." (In some places, such as the family court, it is already more appropriate to use "sexism" to mean "favoring women," but until we get rid of a few gender stereotypes, I won't apply the terms in that reversed form universally.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Child Prostitute: Victim?

Recently, a 15-year-old British girl became a high-class prostitute without her parents' knowledge after duping an escort agency into believing she was of age.

Clearly, there's something wrong here. Her parents, who are legally responsible for her and her welfare, do not know that she is engaging in this (undoubtedly) risky behavior. The agency didn't do enough of a background check to make sure that she was of age.

But the article talks about her as a "victim," and lumps her into a group of real victims: child sex slaves.

This girl does not sound like a victim to me. The police have determined that her parents didn't know about it, so they can't have forced her into it. She was earning thousands of pounds, so she can't have been exploited financially for her body. She was doing it through an escort agency, which legally can't force a girl to have sex with a client, so if she were of age it would have been consensual.

She, from the story the article tells, approached the agency; duped them into thinking she was of age; kept her parents from finding out; and got paid a lot for her services. How is she a victim? If anyone abused her, it was she herself. What is it about this magical age, 16 in England (so she was just one year shy!), that makes a person suddenly able to do things like this without being a "victim"?

This is really a messed-up attitude towards sexuality. It's not a thing that blossoms, suddenly, overnight at age 16 (or 17, or 18, or whatever the age of consent in your country of choice). People grow into their sexualities over time, and just because they happen to be younger than some nationally decreed age does not automatically make them a victim for exploring it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Definition of Patriarchy

I've heard lay definitions of "patriarchy" as broad as "any exploitation of any group by any other group or individual" and as narrow as "oppression of women by men." What I mean when I say the term is pretty much what Merriam-Webster says it means: "a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line, or broadly, control by men of a disproportionately large share of power; or, a society or institution organized according to the principles or practices of patriarchy."

So: Patriarchy is a social organization that assumes men take the role of caretakers, custodians, providers and rulers, and that women and children take the roles of dependents.

Unfortunately, this term carries the connotation that all men are more advantaged than all women. Women might be more advantaged than men in some situations; women of higher social classes might be more advantaged than men of lower classes; women and men of advantaged or disadvantaged races and of varying social ranks might have quite complicated dominance hierarchies. So, the term "patriarchy" seems a little too simplistic.

Maybe "kyriarchy," meaning "
a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression," would be better?

This term is ungendered, removing the common misinterpretation that it's men who are oppressing women rather than men and women who are engaged in complex social interactions dependent on gender assumptions of each; and it takes into account the complexities of society and does not assume that one gender will always have the advantage of the other (or even that gender is the most indicative factor in determining advantage or disadvantage).

Seems pretty awesome to me.

Sperm Donor Required to Pay Child Support

In a recent case in Pennsylvania, a male friend of a lesbian couple who acted as a sperm donor so that they could have children together was ordered to pay child support upon the dissolution of the lesbian couple's civil union because he took a relatively active role in the children's lives.

This seems like a clear-cut case to me: The children had two legal guardians. These legal guardians had a legal arrangement (civil union) binding them together. Then, the legal guardians dissolved the legal arrangement binding them together. Upon this dissolution, one parent got custody of the children, and the other parent was required to pay child support.

Nowhere in this is there room for another parent to be added to the equation just because the civil union is dissolved. Yes, the man was the biological father of the children, but he should never have had legal rights to the custody of the children nor responsibility for their care, because he never took on the role of legal guardian.

The argument from the court for why the man was required to pay child support was because "he was so involved with them. ... They called him Papa," and he spent "thousands of dollars on the children, including purchases of toys and clothing."

I don't personally see how this reason validates requiring him to pay child support. Many grandparents have spent thousands of dollars on their grandchildren and purchase toys and clothing for them. Some children call their grandparents variations on "Papa"- I personally know a girl who calls her parents "Mom" and "Dad" and her grandparents "Mama" and "Papa." If a hypothetical couple obtained a divorce and Parent A got custody of the children, should Parent B's parents pay child support? Certainly not, even if they were addressed as "Mama" and "Papa" and had spent thousands of dollars on the children already. This seems intuitive.

Could this be indicative of prevalent but understated gender assumptions? "Surely, two women cannot support this child on their own; we must find a man to provide the traditional caretaker role and provide the financial support necessary!" Sure sounds possible ...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Divorce and Alimony

Men and women, along with their legal right to marry (as one of a binary of sexes and marrying the other of that binary of sexes, but we'll get into that some other time), have a legal right to divorce. And upon divorcing, thanks to the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act of 1970, both men and women have the right to ask for alimony payments upon divorce if they were financially dependent upon their spouses. Curiously, though, men seem not to request alimony nearly as often as women do. The reasons are likely to be social: any man facing a divorce will likely speak to a well-informed lawyer, so we can't assume that men are simply unaware of their rights.

It's truly a shame that pressure on men to be breadwinners might prevent them from fighting for much-needed financial support.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Livejournal Counterpart

I have created a LiveJournal account to which I will be crossposting everything seen here. If you use LJ and would prefer to friend me there rather than follow this blog, the username is v_cide.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gendering Victims: Attacking the Family Court System from All Sides

I've seen a lot of articles kicking around the Internet of late talking about the family court system and how wretchedly custody and visitation disputes tend to be handled. Unfortunately, most of these articles attack the family court system from one perspective: the Wronged Father.

"What's wrong with that?" you might ask. "The father is more often the parent denied visitation or custody without good reason. And besides, fighting for fathers whose rights regarding their children have been impinged on can be extended to the tiny tiny minority of mothers without custody who are in similar positions."

Well, there isn't anything really wrong with it. Gender bias is pretty prevalent in the family court system, and pretty generally agreed to be, so attacking the privileges of the privileged group does make sense.

But to talk about unjust custody and visitation decisions as a fathers' rights versus mothers' rights issue unnecessarily genders it and forcibly creates two different groups of people who both feel they have been wronged in different ways- the Wronged Fathers and the Wronged Mothers. They are both just Wronged Parents who should be able to come together and fight the family court as an unjust judicial system, awarding custody unfairly sometimes on the basis of gender, sometimes on other bases unrelated to the actual care and welfare of the child in question.

It's not often that I see an article talking about the family court system in this way, and I must admit I have fallen prey in the past to gendering my discussion of it. This article by Teri Stoddard does an excellent job of calling out custody-seeking mothers and fathers for their petty hostility towards each other and exposing the family court system's mistreatment of them both. It is a good read.

Just one final note: in this post, I use the example of the family court system and the assumed male victim and assumed female aggressor. Soon, I promise, I will address gender assumptions for victims and aggressors of sexual and domestic violence in a similar (and I hope respectful) manner.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Title of this Blog

It seems appropriate that the first post to this blog be self-referential. I've used this name- Virginal Suicide- in the past, and it's raised some eyebrows, so I think it is worth some explanation.

When I was in the sixth grade, I read somewhere that in ancient China, where women had little to no rights or privileges, the best and sometimes only way for a young lady to draw attention to a plight she or her family might be experiencing was for her to commit suicide. The picture that I got from this long-lost source that I cannot for the life of me recover was that the only way for a usually unmarried (and therefore assumed to be virginal) young woman to get the attention of her male family members and social counterparts- essentially, the only way for her to be an activist- was to martyr herself.

For some reason, this image stuck with me: the notion that a woman could not, historically, present an opinion about an idea, ideal or injustice except by making the ultimate sacrifice, coupled with the notion that these ideas, ideals and injustices were worth that sacrifice, giving rise to a dramatic picture of a pure (in whatever sense- I'll address the social implications of virginity as a stand-in for purity in future posts) young woman with her life ahead of her committing suicide to bring attention to her plight or the plights of others.

Actual historical evidence on the prevalence and acceptance of this practice is, of course, spotty, and I'm pretty sure both that it did not happen terribly often and that when it did, the effect was minimal and short-term. However, this picture is still around. The original picture I had of young women in China, particularly the more traditional, rural areas, is unfortunately not inaccurate even today. In fact, female suicide in some rural villages is so common as to be normalized: diagnosable mental illness is far less common in Chinese women who have attempted suicide than Western women, implying that it's a social or cultural rather than medical epidemic, and in some places it is an accepted way for a young woman to express displeasure. (We have examples of this in the West, too, of course: the Virgin Suicides is the obvious literary one.)

But this picture takes many different forms in different cultures, with different gender and sex identities and different causes. Need I even mention religious martyrs such as Jesus who died for ideas, ideals and injustices?

On a larger scale, many groups of people have used suicide, commonly in the form of hunger strikes, to gain attention for political and social causes. It's an incredibly powerful way to protest.

So, after all that, why name this blog after that picture? It's a pretty gruesome, grotesque, gross and-other-g-words image, and one seemingly of desperation.

I chose it as a reminder of what I don't have to resort to. Instead, I can express myself loudly, clearly and verbally, and I can expect people to, if not listen, at least hear me and consider my ideas, my ideals and my notions of what is unjust. I chose it as a reminder of how important these ideas, ideals and notions of injustice can be. I chose it as a reminder of how far we've come, that I can expect these things, and how far we've got to go, that I still must loudly proclaim them.