Friday, July 26, 2013

Old Elephant Matriarchs

Are better leaders than younger elephants.  That makes sense, because old age means more different types of experiences.  Also, if an elephant has survived to become very old, she must know a thing or two, right?

This is an older story as are all in my vacation Friday series.  You can learn more about the study here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Pregnancy Police. A Re-Posting

(Originally posted here).

Lynne Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin have just published a survey on the arrest rates of pregnant women since Wade v. Roe came into force:

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.
In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.
Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.  
Emphases are mine.  This treatment of pregnancy as something that removes a woman's full legal rights does not fall upon every woman evenly but affects women of color, poor women and women in the South more than other women.

Many cases are about the use of illegal drugs where the pregnant woman is viewed not as a patient needing help to quit but as a criminal procuring drugs to "minors."  But not all.  In one case, a woman trying to commit suicide while pregnant ended in prison accused for murder.  And:

A Louisiana woman was charged with murder and spent approximately a year in jail before her counsel was able to show that what was deemed a murder of a fetus or newborn was actually a miscarriage that resulted from medication given to her by a health care provider.
Do read the other examples at the link.

If the "Egg-Americans Are Full People" movement starts winning, expect more of these types of cases.  They would be a logical consequence of fetal personhood measures.  If the embryo is a full person from the point of conception then the pregnant woman is no longer a full person.  She cannot have the same legal rights as other adults because she is now an aquarium or the outermost of those Russian dolls.  Everything she does can be judged from the point of view of fetal well-being.

The Paltrow-Flavin survey found a troubling trend in all this, having to do with what apparently is a practice consisting of Other People Just Deciding What Should Be Legal and then acting on it, even if laws supporting those acts did not exist.  And this trend is quite ubiquitous when it comes to pregnancy.

Thus, the current problem isn't usually a different legal treatment of pregnant women, as opposed to women who are not pregnant or men, but something nastier:  A personal decision by someone else to override the legal rights of the pregnant woman because that someone else has decided that he or she knows best what should be done to protect the embryo or fetus.  Swooping in like an avenging angel,  filled with righteousness and laws be damned.

An example of this:

For example, last week, a Tennessee woman who had been in a car accident was tested to see if she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. According to local press, her blood alcohol content was well below the legal limit. Nevertheless, because she told a police officer that she was four months pregnant, she was arrested and taken to jail. Tennessee apparently recognizes a special crime reserved just for pregnant women:  driving while not intoxicated.
 Of course she was arrested because the police officer decided she might be harming her fetus.  The Pregnancy Police is usually not an actual police officer but a private citizen or a group of private citizens.  The Pregnancy Police decides whether a pregnant woman should have a glass of wine or not.  It sometimes even decides where she is allowed to be:

Michelle Lee was catching up with friends at a nightspot near her parents' home when a bouncer pulled her aside.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" Lee recalled him asking. "Are you pregnant?"
She responded yes because, at eight months along, it would have been difficult to argue otherwise, she said later.
Lee, 29, said the bouncer who was staffing the Coach House bar near Roselle didn't care that she was only drinking water.

She said he asked her to leave shortly after midnight Thursday, telling her the bar would be liable if anything happened to her. She complied, but grew angrier over the weekend, questioning whether she had been discriminated against as a pregnant woman.
"He just said, if anything happens, if a fight breaks out and you get hurt, we are responsible," Lee said. "That can happen anywhere. If I am going somewhere, I am taking responsibility."
In that 2011 example the pregnant woman, drinking only water, wasn't allowed to stay at a place for adults because she was a container for a fetus.

But this is really about the fear that she might take a sip of alcohol from someone else's glass, I think.  Yet it's probably quite unlikely that the occasional glass of wine or beer would harm a fetus.  After all, the French, the Spanish and the Italians have drunk wine with meals for centuries, and pregnant women were not told to abstain from it.  If moderate use of alcohol was really bad for a developing embryo or fetus then all citizens of those countries should have suffered from clear signs of alcohol damage.

The health warnings about alcohol are based on studies of severe alcohol use during pregnancy, such as is the case with alcoholism.  That the health recommendations from such studies became recommendations to cut out all alcohol during pregnancy can perhaps be understood as a policy of choosing to minimize all risk to the fetus while noting that a short abstention from alcohol is unlikely to have any negative health consequences for the woman.

But one consequence of framing the health recommendation that way is that it has flashed a green light to all the eager Pregnancy Police Officers (whether official or amateur) out there to try to control the lives of pregnant women.  Not One Sip Of Wine Will Pass Those Lips As Long As I Am Here!

In short, we, as a culture, already regard pregnant people as having fewer rights than others, including their right to privacy, and we, as a culture, already assign pregnant women our own ethical rules about how they should act.  Just imagine what an increase in state level personhood measures would do to those tendencies!  Pregnant women might have to start hiding at home if they don't want to be subjected to the Pregnancy Police.

Note, also, that the more the legal authorities treat medical problems as crimes (but only in the case of pregnant women), the less likely it is that women with, say, drug addiction problems will turn to those legal authorities for help.  One unintended (and severe) health consequence of such policies could well be that pregnant women with problems will not contact the health care system at all.  That's something we really do not want.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Honeyed Speech, Moneyed Speech. A Re-Posting

Originally posted here, but still every bit as relevant.  Money is always relevant, sadly.

This post is about speech and money. The famous lefty philanthropist George Soros has donated Media Matters of America a million clams! As Atrios points out, why shouldn't Soros do that? After all, the wingnut blogs have accused him of funding everything on the "left" for years.

Sadly, Mr. Soros is not funding this blog. I even wrote him an e-mail when I first got started as a Divine Blogger and asked for a donation. Never got an answer.

That is not important (except for me), but it's indicative of what is going on in political blogging on the left/middle and on the right. The right pays people to speak and to write, and they pay very well indeed, and usually this payment comes from the pockets of a few billionaires who fund the various think-tanks (and most so-called conservative grass root movements, too). If you are an anti-feminist you will make big bucks writing your creed (Christine Hoff-Sommers, say) at one of those philanthropic think-tanks, but if you are a feminist you are left to the market forces, poor thing.

Now think about that! The conservatives always adore the market forces but they don't let those buffet their magazines, newspapers or blogs. The funding of those has nothing to do with market forces.

The liberals and progressives often talk about the problems with markets but they let their magazines and blogs struggle in those cold waters of capitalism without much help. This split is not complete. But it exists, and the irony is painfully clear to me, especially because there are pretty good economic reasons why advocacy sites will never be a good candidate for market funding.

What it ultimately means is that the people on the right are moneyed and the rest of us must write with a honeyed tongue to get any donations at all. (See how I got that title into the post?) More importantly, it means that the right easily out-writes everyone else in volume.

Life in the Neolithic Ages. A Feminazi Rant, Re-Posted

(Originally from here.   I repost it so that you can see my feminazi side, too)

That's the current era in terms of gender equality (Ogg has rock. Ogg bang head of Oggette! bangbangbang! Oggette stupid. Ogg smart, look at Ogg bang!).

We don't live in a feminist era, whatever the nuttiest types of Men's Rights Activists say, and we don't live in a post-feminist era, unless by "post-feminism" we mean that feminism came and went, like a dirty ring around the collar. All gone now! Besides, it was all about man-hating, unshaved armpits and ugly women not being able to get laid.

Women don't want equality, Counterpunch, an extreme left-wing site, tells us, borrowing heavily from non-existing research from a British wingnut. Women can't drive and shouldn't wear the pants, right-wingers tell us when it looks like female advisers persuaded the president to make a certain decision. And the president is now effete, weak and contemptible, because women should not have power.

Elsewhere, the American invasion troops in Afghanistan have decided to back-pedal on the topic of women's rights. Trying to change the oppression of women there is like rolling that stone up the hill, only having it roll back down again. (Poor Sisyphus. I know how he felt.) But we must all be pragmatic! What can be achieved in Afghanistan is something safer for the west and something better for the Afghan men and that must serve us.

In Egypt, the transitional government has no women and the Muslim Brotherhood (not sisterhood) is likely to win many seats in the next parliament. Tunisia's revolution has a similar male flavor and so it goes.

And in the ivory towers, new theories are created every day in those weird type of evolutionary psychology workshops about the innermost nature of women as coy, not very smart, keen on trading sex for money and best judged by how close to a human-sized Barbie doll* she might look, preferably with blond hair and blue eyes.

Most people are comfortably numb with this state of affairs. Even many feminists have switched their focus from women to oppressions of every kind.

But of course things have much improved in this country and in many other countries when it comes to the acceptable roles of women. Even international progress is visible if you squint hard enough.

The reason for my rant is not that. It's the obliviousness with which writers carefully pen the term "post-feminist," the pretend-seriousness with which they discuss the imaginary coming era of men's oppression by women, all combined with jokes about women as bad drivers or worries about whether women should be in power. It's the opining on feminist topics by many who appear to have done their research by having a ten-minute thought one night over a beer or two, and it's our willingness to take such thoughts every bit as seriously (if not more so) than the writings of people who actually have done the necessary research.

Take, for instance, the often expressed view that we now live in a post-feminist world? When honor killings exist? When the United States has never had a female president? When the Erick Ericksons of this world can proudly compare the US Secretary of State to bad women drivers? When work-life balance is just yet another women's issue? When I can watch a week of Japanese television about the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-disaster combination and not see one female expert or politician interviewed, when all those rooms of power are full of only men? When the US Republican Party has declared an all-out war on women, and few notice this? Post-feminist, indeed, but only in the sense of feminism being irrelevant.

What about the ominous rise of the new matriarchy, some of you might ask**. Aren't women now dominant among university students? Isn't the world soon going to be run by those bad female drivers? Perhaps it is time for a counter-revolution! Perhaps we have gone too far in the direction of favoring women. And look what that got us? As commentators from both the left and the right told us, weren't women supposed to be the peaceful sex, the sex that will stop the wars? But look what three women did in the case of president Obama's Libya decision! They were the heedless warmongers. Which means...what?

Iran fixed the too-many-women problem in its universities by putting up quotas against female students in "manly" disciplines, such as engineering. The US tries to fix it by telling us stories about how bad it is ultimately for women (not for men, mind you, or for all of us) if they are the majority of college graduates:

They have nobody higher up or equal to marry! That something which we would applaud in a randomly picked student (hard work and drive) is so often presented as a problem: too-many-women, should make you think. It's a sign of the neolithic age of gender relationships: Zero-sum thinking, gender myths based on man-the-provider-and-leader and woman-the-subservient-housewife and generalized diffuse sexism which always leads us to the conclusion that women should do with something slightly less than full equality.

As I mention in the title of this post, this is a rant. But if it still comes across as too earnest and serious, think about why that might be the case.

Gender equality is not something that is taken seriously, in general. That's why Erickson can present his contempt of women as a joke and that's why we don't all riot when we are told that women should cut back on higher education so as to leave more space for men which they then could marry. We are uncomfortable with taking the topic seriously because we are still living the neolithic era of gender relationships. And that is what makes us uncomfortable with feminazi rants.
*These link to the first posts of two series, not to the specific posts in which those arguments are presented. You can find loads more in my archives if you are bent that way.
**Just an aside: Note how outdated some of the arguments made about the "end of men" are less than one year later. The mancession, for instance, is rapidly disappearing and there are some signs that a womancession might come next.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

She's A Slut. A Re-Posting.

(Originally posted here)

Contents:  Sexual Violence, Suicide, Ostracism

Rehtaeh Parsons in Canada and Audrie Potts in the United States were teenage girls.  Both alleged that they were gang-raped by teenage boys while being  unconscious from alcohol.   Both also seem to have been the victims of social media and real world ostracism after the events took place.  And both took their own lives, Audrie last September and Rehtaeh this April.

In Parsons' case the initial police investigation about the alleged gang-rape  ended in no charges though the case has now been reopened, apparently because of new information.  The rumors are that a witness or one of the alleged rapists has come forward because of Rehtaeh's suicide.  In Potts' case the police has made recent arrests.

That is all a very neutral summary of the events which otherwise bring Steubenville to mind.  The shared aspects of these three cases (and many more)  are a) the alleged unconsciousness or near-unconsciousness of the girls, b) the gang aspect of the alleged rapes, and c) the destruction of the girls' reputations via social media and real world ostracism, including the spread of photos about the alleged rapes or the otherwise disgusting treatment of an alleged rape victim.  At least two of the cases also suggest a fairly lethargic involvement by the police and all three cases demonstrate that the schools failed in their duties.

Reading about all these cases is painful and difficult.  Writing those cut-and-dry statements is extremely insufficient.   But it is a necessary prelude for what I want to talk about:  The second Act in the play titled "How To Ruin A Young Girl's Life."

The First Act of the play is a sexual act, or an act which some parts of the society labels as mutually voluntary sex, even if it really is a gang-rape where one "participant" is unconscious and has given no consent.  More generally, almost any kind of sexual behavior by the young woman or girl may suffice the get the play going.

The Second Act is what articles about these cases call bullying.  But it's something more vicious than that term can convey.  It is ostracism combined with the destruction of someone's external reputation.  Mere ostracism at least leaves the target alone.  What the treatment of these teenagers suggests is more abhorrent:  The target is isolated, left almost friendless but still continuously harassed, ridiculed, gossiped about. 

Rehteah Parsons received text messages from strangers asking her for sex months after the alleged gang-rape.  The Steubenville rape victim was described as a whore and a slut in many tweets I read a month after the rape, and those who described her that way were her age and both male and female.  The Facebook messages I also scrutinized at that time described her as a slut and the boys as innocent victims of the naturally-must-hump-a-slut instinct.

Did the Steubenville victim not get supportive messages in the social media then?  Perhaps, but despite my attempts I couldn't unearth any.  This suggests (only suggests, as support could have been offered in personal channels only) that the view of sexually active women as sluts and whores is widespread among the young, that many teenagers think being unconscious or extremely drunk is not a valid excuse for becoming the object of sexual treatment by others and that men cannot help themselves in sexual matters, cannot abstain from having sex with inanimate human beings.  In short, the responsibility for gate-keeping sex is clearly seen as belonging to women.

What in olden days used to be called victim-blaming (why did she go to that party?  why did she drink so much?  how come was she dressed like that?) is not seen as victim-blaming but as The Way Things Are.  Boys are supposed to try to get sex, at almost any cost, good girls are supposed to cross their legs and somehow have that hold, whereas bad girls are stamped with the slut label and are then free game forevermore.

I was shocked to find all that so very much alive in the social media.  I naively thought that the past discussions about victim-blaming were now knitted into the wider society.  But that does not seem to be the case.  There are still good women (not for public sexual consumption) and bad women (for public sexual consumption).

What makes all this so horrible is that we are discussing minors in most of the better-known cases.  Children, really.  Teenagers whose lives revolve around their peer groups and for whom the sentence of that peer group can well mean death.  At the same time, those teenage boys got their understanding of the rules of the sex game from somewhere.  Who taught them that unconscious girls can be used that way?  Was it their parents?  The general culture?  Pornography?  I think the answer matters tremendously.

But it's not just the boys we need to reach.  The girls with those Twitter and Facebook accounts too often shared a similar understanding:  In some odd way boys and men are entitled to try for sex, by hook or crook, and if they succeed then the girl or a woman is a slut or a whore but he got lucky.

We need to do something about those values, and the need is urgent.

In the final and Third Act of the play the wider consequences of all this play out.   What they are depends on the individuals involved, on whether the woman or girl ever tells anyone about what happened, on her mental and emotional strength, on the severity of the hatred she must bear from her culture, on the support she receives and on the whole larger culture.  If the police is informed about the case as an alleged rape,  the values the police officers hold enter the story, and finally the values of those who decide whether a case can go to court or not.

At all those stages we must be aware of those underlying values, of the submerged belief that the destruction of some lives (such as the  student athletes in the Steubenville case) really counts for more than the destruction of other lives (such as that of the Steubenville victim) and of the deep, deep roots of the belief that women really are responsible for sex that happened, except if she lost an arm or her life while fighting against it.

The least helpful of all reactions I have read is the recommendation that girls not be allowed to go to parties, that alcohol should be kept away from teenagers, that parents are to blame for not supervising their children (usually their daughters) better.  This is not because it wouldn't be good to monitor teenagers but because all those assumptions are the same as saying that young men really all are rapists, that nothing can be done about that except to make sure that it's not your daughter who gets raped by them.  Besides, the advice usually boils down to limiting girls' freedoms as a solution to something that really isn't their fault.

All that is preposterous.  It is also highly insulting to all the young men who would never try to have sex with an unconscious woman or man, while doing nothing to the suggestion that perhaps that IS how young men are expected to act.
I have written before on the derogatory terms we have for women who do not obey traditional ideas about how women should behave.  It  could be useful to look at the whole collection of such terms, because almost all of them have the characteristics of stating "this is a nasty person AND a woman", whereas the corresponding male terms tend to say just "this is a nasty person."  There are exceptions to that rule but not many.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Bald Vulva. A Re-Posting

(Re-posted from here.)

It sounds like the national bird (of the US, that is), doesn't it?

The Atlantic has an article about women shaving off all their pubic hair or getting Brazilian waxes down there or even having the pubic hair permanently zapped with laser treatment. I recommend reading the whole piece from the beginning to the end to note how the actual reasons for this trend are subsumed in all sorts of dead-end theories about why young women, quite suddenly as history goes, have decided that a bald vulva is a necessary fashion or health accessory. Nothing replaces that reading as an exercise in learning how smoke is blown into our eyes when it comes to political issues about women. And this IS a political issue.

I'm not really blaming the writer who does do the necessary work of discussing the real reasons. But all the fluff around that real reason, about low-slung pants requiring the shaving of pubic hair (what about men?) to the age-old argument that women are smelly by nature are trotted out, and so is the idea that femininity means hairlessness (even if biology disagrees).

And this bit is really hilarious:
So what does it all mean? Is pubic hair removal a symbol of feminine pride, something that Gloria Steinem might be proud of? Or does it signify submission to a domineering male agenda?
"It's all in how people deal with it," Herbenick says. As she's seen in her lecture-hall encounters, the hairless vulva isn't always analogous to the clenched fist of female solidarity; just as often, it's a telltale sign of oppression or forced conformity.
But, she says, uncovered, demystified genitalia can just as easily be a symbol of empowerment. "Many women have started to feel a sense of ownership over their bodies -- an autonomy," she says. "If they want to take it off, they take it off. If they want to grow it back, they grow it back. If they want to shave it into a heart, they shave it into a heart. But they're doing it because they want to."
They are doing it because they want to? No wider societal influences there? Why don't we have lots of women completely shaving off their eyebrows? They are hair, after all, and unfeminine, and they might smell when you are sweaty after a workout or sex.

The reason, of course is in p*rnography (which so far isn't that interested in eyebrows). It became widely available, in forms which did not require a man to walk into a crummy shop to buy a magazine, about twenty years ago. We now may have a generation of heterosexual men who formed their first ideas about how naked women look by watching p*rn. And women in those depictions do not have pubic hair. This is so that one can see all the dangly bits and the jingly bits better, of course.

Imagine such a man having first-time sex with a woman who actually has pubic hair! Might he not express shock or disgust at this horror? Might she not then feel that she, too, must shave her vulva bald?

That explanation suffices. All the other stories told in the article are either dead-ends or tales about the roads this influence took to get into the popular culture in general. But the direct route works really well, too:
Herbenick recalls one encounter in which a popular, well-liked college student in a class she taught openly professed that he had never hooked up with a girl who had pubic hair, and would frankly be disgusted to undress a woman and discover a veil of genital fur.
"Some girls talked to me and wrote in their papers that they had always had pubic hair, and in a couple cases never did anything to their pubic hair," she said. "They never thought it was a problem. But when he said that, they went home and changed it. They really started to feel ashamed about their bodies."
Fitzpatrick, similarly, finds himself in a collegiate scene full of young women far too obsessed with the hair down there. "It becomes a compulsion," he says.
Fitzpatrick's female friends, especially those who confess to not having waxed in a while, have added a distinct new routine to their social calendars: weekend-evening freak-outs. "When they go out on a Friday night to the bar, if they think they might be having sex with somebody later, they're like, 'Is he gonna judge me? What is he gonna think?'" Fitzpatrick says. Other non-waxed coeds simply skip the bar altogether.
Pinto, too, admits that she gets nervous about having sex toward the third or fourth week after getting a wax. "If I haven't waxed and I suddenly end up hooking up with someone, I'm like, Oh, God. No, no!" she says.
And it's true, says Fitzpatrick: Guys can be, and often are, "absolutely brutal." It's not uncommon for a college-aged man to "go out of his way" to make fun of a girl's pubic grooming habits with his buddies after he's hooked up with her -- even if he's never expressed a preference one way or the other, he says. "Then all of a sudden, instead of just being a girl who's had a fun night with her respective guy, she becomes that girl who has weird pubic hair. And nobody wants that label."
"Weird pubic hair." There you have it!

Two important points about this post: First, do a gender reversal on the arguments. All the arguments for a bald vulva seem to me to equally apply to men's pubic hair. The skin would be softer, the experience of intercourse would be more powerful, with less hairy padding, and so on. But do women shame men into shaving down there? And of course the real point about this first point is the absence of articles like this about men's pubic hair.

Second, and this is very important for any reader I have angered by downplaying "choice" here. We obviously have a choice about how much hair we want on our vulvas or around our penises. But those kinds of choices are never made in a vacuum. As I wrote in an earlier post, the women in this picture look very much alike, because their clothing was influenced by the culture they lived in:

Yet I'm pretty sure if we could have asked them about their choice of hairdo (the "Gibson Girl" of the early 20th century) or the dresses they would have given us individual choice explanations.

We are all affected by the culture we live in, and different choices carry different societal benefits and sanctions. This post is to point out why one particular "choice" has become more common and what drives its popularity.