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.)