Friday, February 07, 2014

A Housekeeping Post

I won't be able to check comments over this weekend, except sporadically, so all comments will go into a queue which I will clear whenever I get a chance.  This doesn't mean that I don't adore you or that you are singled out for special harassment.


Christina Hoff Sommers: Nope, Women Don't Earn Less Than Men. Part 2 Of 3.

This is the second post about Christina Hoff Sommers' argument that, essentially, lower wages are fair wages for women.  The first post can be found here, the third here.  I realized, after working on this post, that there needs to be a third one.  Otherwise this  post ends up book length.  So this post talks about occupational segregation between women and men, and the third (and final, promise!) post talks about engineers.


Back to Hoff Sommers.  After addressing the question of the gross gender gap in wages and the net gender gap in wages (in my terminology), she moves on to "choice" by focusing on gender segregation* in the labor markets.   For example:

Much of the wage gap can be explained away by simply taking account of college majors. Early childhood educators and social workers can expect to earn around $36,000 and $39,000, respectively. By contrast, petroleum engineering and metallurgy degrees promise median earnings of $120,000 and $80,000. Not many aspiring early childhood educators would change course once they learn they can earn more in metallurgy or mining. The sexes, taken as a group, are somewhat different. Women, far more than men, appear to be drawn to jobs in the caring professions; and men are more likely to turn up in people-free zones. In the pursuit of happiness, men and women appear to take different paths.

Where to begin with that?  Perhaps here:  One cannot just state that "much of the wage gap can be explained away by simply taking account of college majors."  This is because only 33% of  American adults have a four-year college degree or higher, and even if we include two-year college degrees (which Hoff Sommers does not, in her argument), the majority of American adults (61.3% in 2011) do not have a college degree.

Hoff Sommers' other opinions about college majors are the stuff for my third post.  In this one I wish to look at this quick reference** to gender segregation in occupations:

Women, far more than men, appear to be drawn to jobs in the caring professions; and men are more likely to turn up in people-free zones. 
Hoff Sommers doesn't really go on to talk about gender segregation, because she uses her data for that "choice" argument, but gender segregation in the labor market does matter a lot in explaining why full-time female workers earn less than full-time male workers, on average, and it's worth a short (for me) detour to that topic, to explain, specifically, why "people" are not just "drawn" to certain types of professions but might end up in them for all sorts of reasons. 

 Let's begin by noting that a)  female-dominated occupations pay less, on average, than male-dominated occupations, and b)  there are a lot of women in female-dominated occupations and a lot of men in male-dominated occupations, so that even small differences in the average earnings between occupations cause clear differences in the gross gender gap. 

Put these together, and it turns out that occupational gender segregation accounts for a largish chunk of the gross gender gap in earnings.  Or viewed slightly differently, if we could shift enough people about to make all occupations gender-integrated, the gross gender gap in earnings would be much reduced.

Could that be achieved?  It's hard to say.  The conservative argument, which Hoff Sommers presents in her opinion piece, is that occupational segregation is based on men and women wanting different things in life and on choosing different things when deciding on an occupation.   Usually this "choice" argument is firmly based on the "no-choice" argument of innate differences.  For example, Hoff Sommers argues that women prefer jobs having to do with people, men prefer jobs having to do with things, on average, and that it is these differences, seen as innate and not susceptible to choice, which drive those "choices."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Just A Post Reminder And Other Interesting Stuff

I'm writing a second part of my posts about Christina Hoff Sommers' anti-feminist arguments in the most recently recycled form.  It's taking longer than I expected, because I'm doing calculations and research (adjusts stern-librarian-glasses, stores pencil behind ear).  But it will be a good post.  In the meantime, you can read the first one.  And no, it is not too long.

That was the reminder.  Here is the stuff.  I had a breakdown or breakthrough yesterday, and suddenly asked myself what would happen if I started writing popular stuff, if I didn't subconsciously pick post titles which guarantee that nobody wants to read the posts (Just A Post Reminder And Other Stuff), if I wrote about the rumor that certain kinds of financial executives might be either eliminated or committing suicide within a short period of time, or if I wrote about the possible affair between Wendi Deng (Rupert Murdoch's third wife) and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  What would happen then?

A bowl of chocolate ice-cream cured me of that (though I think I could do the kind of writing that is required).  And then I immediately asked myself why Rupert Murdoch's three wives vs. Wendi Deng's one husband plus perhaps a few lovers are treated differently in the Vanity Fair article, especially as we don't know how many mistresses Murdoch might have had.  And then off I went in the usual boring direction.

Here's an example of a story which I do want to write more about, but can't, without the kind of research for which I have neither the time nor the expertise*.  The story asks whether Dr. Marthe Gautier was given adequate credit for her role in the discovery of trisomy 21:

The woman is Dr. Marthe Gautier, now 88 years old.  In 1956 she was a young physician, returning to Paris from a year's study of pediatric cardiology at Harvard.  She was given a clinical/teaching position at a local hospital, with no funds for research.  The Head of the Pediatric Unit, Raymond Turpin, was interested in mongolism (as Down syndrome was then called); years earlier he had proposed that it might be caused by a chromosome abnormality.  Human cytogenetics was not well understood, but a big breakthrough came this same year, when the true chromosome number was finally established as 46 (not 48).  When Turpin complained that nobody was investigating his hypothesis, Gautier proposed that she take this problem on, since her Harvard training had introduced her to both cell culture and histology.  Turpin agreed to provide a tissue sample from a patient.

For this work she was given a disused laboratory with a fridge, a centrifuge, and a poor quality microscope, but no funding.  And of course she still had her other responsibilities.  But she was keen and resourcefull, so she took out a personal loan to buy glassware, kept a live cockerel as a source of serum, and used her own blood when she needed human serum.

By the end of 1957 she had everything working with normal human cells, and could clearly distinguish the 46 chromosomes.  So she asked Prof. Turpin for the patient sample.  After 6 months wait it arrived, and she quickly was able to prepare slides showing that it had not 46 but 47 chromosomes, with three copies of chromosome 21.  But her microscope was very poor, and she could not take the photographs of her slides that a publication would need.

All this time Prof. Turpin had never visited her lab, but she'd had frequent visits from a protege of his, Jerome Lejeune.  When she showed Lejeune her discovery, he offered to take the slides to another laboratory where they could be photographed.  She never saw the slides again, but the photographs appeared in Montreal two months later (August 1958), where Lejeune announced to the International Conference of Human Genetics in Montreal that he had discovered the cause of Down syndrome!  Lejeune and Turpin quickly wrote up 'their' discovery, with Gautier as middle author, but Gautier only learned about this publication the day before it appeared in print.
*To judge all this properly requires reading the arguments from both sides but it also probably requires an ability to understand what Gautier was doing in her work and how that fits into the wider picture.

The International Day for Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation

Today is the eleventh International Day advocating zero tolerance for female genital mutilation (FGM).  This UN sponsored event focuses attention on the negative aspects of the practice and its prevalence.  It is largely concentrated among 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East and the diaspora from those countries.  It is estimated that 140 million women and girls alive today (125 million in the African countries where the practice is most common)  have undergone some form of the operation, which can carry both instant and long-term health risks, including life-threatening ones.

The reasons for the practice are largely cultural and traditional.  FGM can be viewed as a rite of passage, a custom passed on from older women to younger women,  but its ultimate reason is in the belief that it is important to control women's sexuality, both for the family honor and in order to make women into wives who are less likely to stray.  Whether practices such as infibulation (see below) might also have more direct sexual motives is unclear to me but seems possible.

There are four main types of FGM:

Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris or, in very rare cases, only the prepuce.

Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering ‘seal’. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

Unclassified: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes,
e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.

The health problems FGM can cause are several:

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.
Immediate complications can include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage (bleeding), tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and injury to nearby genital tissue.
Long-term consequences can include:
  • recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
  • cysts;
  • infertility;
  • an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
  • the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated [sic] both immediate and long-term risks.

Preventing the practice is usually given priority, but Senegal is right now experimenting with corrective surgery for those who wish to have it.  It is not yet clear how effective the surgery is.

The arguments against FGM are strong.  It is an operation which can cause future health problems without any manifested health benefits, it can reduce tactile sensitivity in the genital area and thus one's ability to enjoy sex and it can be seen as a form of controlling the behavior of women in order to ensure their adherence to only the approved female roles.

But those who support the practice argue for its cultural significance.  For example (quote taken from a manuscript still in the editing process; the final form of it appears to have been published here):

What the Health Ministries in Nigeria should be doing in respectful consultation with traditional leaders - is restricting themselves to improving the safe performance of circumcision, or conducting randomized controlled studies to evaluate various traditional approaches to the matter, not dabbling into making jaundiced value judgements (through an arbitrary western prism) about an ancient blood ritual. That decision is for villages and clans to make, not the country as a whole.

Opinions surveys about FGM are available for many of the 29 countries where the practice is concentrated.  For example, in surveys about women and girls:

Girls’ and women’s attitudes about FGM/C vary widely across countries...The highest levels of support can be found in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt, where more than half the female population think the practice should continue. However, in most countries where FGM/C is concentrated (19 out of 29), the majority of girls and women think it should end.
Younger women and girls are more likely to want the practice to end than older women, and in some countries these age differences are wide. 

In surveys about men and boys:

Information on the attitudes of boys and men towards FGM/C is only available for 16 of the 29 countries where FGM/C is concentrated.  Moreover, this information has not always been collected in the latest surveys for which data on women’s attitudes are available. This means that data on boys’ and men’s opinions of the practice are generally less up to date than data on girls and women, and may not reflect recent attitudinal changes.

The most recent data show that the level of support for the continuation of FGM/C among boys and men varies widely across countries...,  as is the case for girls and women. In four countries with high FGM/C prevalence (Mauritania, Mali, Egypt and Guinea), the majority of boys and men report that they want FGM/C to continue. By contrast, in nine countries, the majority of them favour stopping the practice. While in most of these countries FGM/C prevalence is relatively low, the list also includes Burkina Faso and Sudan, where the practice is widespread.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, A Small Law Change With Large Effects On The Treatment of Domestic Violence

Added later:  You can sign a petition addressed to president Hamid Karzai here.

The Guardian reports on this:

A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.
The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.
"It is a travesty this is happening," said Manizha Naderi, director of the charity and campaign group Women for Afghan Women. "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women … The most vulnerable people won't get justice now."
Under the new law, prosecutors could never come to court with cases like that of Sahar Gul, a child bride whose in-laws chained her in a basement and starved, burned and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. Women like 31-year-old Sitara, whose nose and lips were sliced off by her husband at the end of last year, could never take the stand against their attackers.
"Honour" killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of a woman's behaviour would be almost impossible to punish. Forced marriage and the sale or trading of daughters to end feuds or settle debt would also be largely beyond the control of the law in a country where the prosecution of abuse is already rare.
It is common in western legal systems to excuse people from testimony that might incriminate their spouse. But it is a very narrow exception, with little resemblance to the blanket ban planned in Afghanistan.

It's difficult to get a good overview of the situation of women in Afghanistan now and ten years ago.  There are positive changes and then there are these backlashes by the conservatives factions.

The real question now is whether Hamid Karzai will sign the law or not.  That looks unlikely to me, given the rise of conservative forces and sentiments and the best private strategies of Karzai himself when the occupying forces leave.  But I very much hope I am wrong and if writing about this here increases international attention by even a minute amount, then it's worth writing about it.

Christina Hoff Sommers: Nope, Women Don't Earn Less Than Men. Part 1 Of 3

Meet Christina Hoff Sommers.  It It's Bad For Women, Women Chose It.  If It's Bad For Men, Women Chose It.

Are you familiar with the work of Christina Hoff Sommers?  She is an anti-feminist* American writer, employed by the conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where her field to plow is anything having to do with feminism.  In 1995 she published a book fetchingly entitled Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, but she is most famous for her book about the educational problems of boys and how those problems are the fault of feminists.  That 2001 book is titled The War Against Boys. How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men.

In other contexts she has argued that masculinity is viewed as politically incorrect in the United States, that "fair" wages are not equal wages because women simply happen to prefer jobs which just happen to  pay less or because women voluntarily choose to drop out of the labor force to have children and those gaps naturally mean that the free-market-gods will have to pay women less.  She has recently stated that so few women are CEOs because women don't want to be CEOs.  The LeanIn movement must fail because women don't want to Lean In; women want to lean against the strong shoulders of their male partners, or to Lean Out because pay isn't that important for those people-centered women interested in caring occupations.

None of that is surprising.  Conservatives usually assume that any differences between men and women are a) biology-based and unchanging or  b)  based on utterly free and unconstrained choices by both men and women but especially women.

These rules are sometimes applied in the weirdest of manners.  For example, you might think that reproductive differences, such as who it is who gives birth, would be viewed as biology-based.  But the general conservative interpretation of what might be going on when women take time off from work to have children is that this is just a free choice by the ladiez!  It's  not something that the labor markets need to take into account, not at all the same as, say, the human need for sleep or rest. 

But if reproductive gender differences were truly seen as innate and not just a choice by women, we'd have to address the kinds of questions we do about the need for sleep:  Firms are not allowed to keep workers working 24 hours a day without rest.  Human reproduction requires that those giving birth get to have some time off, but conservatives have fought tooth-and-nail against any kind of maternity leaves for those workers.  What conservatives regard as innate is women's lesser skill or interest in STEM-careers, not the way humans are reproduced.  The latter is one of those choice items.

There is one exception to these rules:  When it comes to boys' problems at school or the lower male participation rate in college, conservatives do not look for a choice-based or innate explanation. Rather, Hoff Sommers' book blames feminism for the "war against boys" in the United States.  That the same patterns are observed in essentially all countries which don't outright exclude women from higher education, including such countries as Saudi Arabia, cannot be explained by the blame-feminism theory.  Indeed, in other contexts conservatives would probably argue that something so widespread as the greater percentage of women among college students must be based on innate differences, not on environmental or economic or cultural incentives.

I'm not buying that, of course.  But it's important to note that the conservatives (and quite a few liberals) believe that  "voluntary choice" because of [sic] those "biological differences" is the usual explanation for gender differences when they appear not to favor women.

Hoff Sommers:  No, Women Don't Make Less Money Than Men

So why am I going on about this particular anti-feminist?  Because she has written a commentary on president Obama's State of the Union speech with that inane headline (No, Women Don't Make Less Money Than Men) and because it's worth taking out that flea comb and combing through her arguments, partly to see How It Is Done and partly to see if there's anything in her opinions with which I can agree.

Here's Hoff Sommers:

It’s the bogus statistic that won’t die—and president deployed it during the State of the Union—but women do not make 77 cents to every dollar a man earns.
President Obama repeated the spurious gender wage gap statistic in his State of the Union address. “Today,” he said, “women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment.”
OK.  Actually, women do make 77 cents to every dollar a man earns, on average.  Despite the "bogus statistic" reference and the headline-in-search-for-clicks Hoff Sommers doesn't disagree with any of that.  What she disagrees with is what she thinks the president thinks by that statement!  Or

What is wrong and embarrassing is the President of the United States reciting a massively discredited factoid. The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers. In its fact-checking column on the State of the Union, the Washington Post included the president’s mention of the wage gap in its list of dubious claims. “There is clearly a wage gap, but differences in the life choices of men and women… make it difficult to make simple comparisons.”

Emphasis is mine.  More about that bolded assertion below and later in this post. For the time being, let's just assume that what Hoff Sommers means is this:  The gross gender gap, measured as the 23 cent difference above, does not take into account such average differences between men and women which are not necessarily evidence for gender discrimination in the labor markets.  If that's what she means here (and I'm being kind), she has a valid point.  The rest of her piece presents a second partially valid point and then adds a lot of weird stuff and interpretation. 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Thoughts on the Official Teachings of the Catholic Church. Where the Wimmenz Are.

A survey of Catholics in Germany and Switzerland shows that most reject the church's teachings on contraception, divorce, sexual morality and gay unions.  This will not change the moral teachings of the church.

Well, of course not, and not only because the results might be different elsewhere in the world.

And despite some statements by pope Francis,  neither is  much going to change in the official teachings of the church about the proper place of women*, though it could well be the case that your average Catholic in this country or in Germany or Switzerland might not agree with those teachings, either.

I have written before about the three pillars on which the general second-class status of women depend** (religion, laws and science/pseudoscience).  Out of the three it is religion which is the hardest and the slowest to change, because the  holy books, written when cultures were very patriarchal, can always be interpreted as the written law of god.   Once someone does that, well, you are arguing with a divine power.

This doesn't mean that religions cannot change or that there aren't religions which have changed.  Some do wonderful work on women and gender.  But there's a lot of work still to be done within the three large Abrahamic religions***.
*The teachings about contraception, sexual morality, divorce and gay unions are also linked to the proper place of women, of course.
**I use the pillars metaphor on purpose, because the old argument often consist of both restricting women's roles in the society and of putting them on a partial pedestal, especially as mothers. You can't leap off the pedestal without getting hurt but on the other hand your specific female talents (which the current pope attributes to women) can be more easily worshiped that way.
***And probably in other religions, too. 

Interpreting Tweets: Written on Seashore Sand, Until The Next Wave vs. Cuneiform Tablets

Are your tweets simple sentences in a chat you have with someone on Twitter?  Are they mini- thoughts carefully framed and considered?  Are they jokes you pass on?  Are they information?  Do you know if the information you offer is correct or not?  Are Twitter discussions real discussions, given that the system doesn't quite allow us to know who the participants are?  What is the sound of a tweet when it drops into the universe without any response?  Did you reach someone or not?  What if you tweet about what you had for breakfast and someone saves that tweet and uses it later in some completely different conversation? 

Are there powerful goddesses and gods of Twittersphere?  Does talking to invisible people you don't know make you feel freer to say what you mean?  Or less free?  Is it easier to be angry on Twitter than in real life?  Is Twitter more democratic than the mainstream media (however defined) or no more democratic?  Are tweets like scrawls on the seashore sand which the ocean smooths away in the next moment or are they like cuneiform tablets, to be one day (soon!) unearthed by future archeologists?

How are tweets to be interpreted?

That is a very serious question, my friends.  I ask it, because Twitter, right now, is one of the best imitators of actual oral discussions or chats on the Internet, because it is a way of carrying out a conversation and because the way the tweets are restricted in length makes each tweet resemble one short snippet of an actual conversation.

People chat on Twitter, people post kitten pictures on Twitter, people transmit opinions, arguments, information and feelings on Twitter, and all of that is done in very short soundbites, in a way which makes one feel there's just this conversation going on, and if something is misunderstood then you clarify, the way you would while sitting around a kitchen table or on a bar stool in a pub.

I'd argue that most people think of Twitter use as close to oral communication.  But once a tweet has been birthed and sent off into the Twittersphere it is also something quite different.  The extreme analogy I use in the title of this post is that it's like a cuneiform tablet, to be regarded as an independent piece of written evidence, to be read in isolation of the conversation it belongs to and to be judged, pretty much, as if it is not that different from a book excerpt or an excerpt from a published speech. 

Except that the context itself can be very difficult to properly establish in Twitter conversations.  A published speech or a book allows those who wish a fairly quick way for checking what the context was.  It is much more difficult to establish the overall contents of a Twitter debate.  Some of them continue for days, for example.

I see individual tweets used in blog posts and in articles where the author posts screenshots of various tweets, tied to some wider topic, and usually that treatment doesn't cause problems, because the tweets are picked carefully, to present a range of opinions or feelings, say.  But it's easy to see that taking one tweet out from a longer debate also offers a different way of analyzing it.

As I noted, we have always had the problem of taking statements out of context.  But when those statements can be produced almost instantaneously,  by large numbers of people, and not always with much thought given to those future archeologists, in a setting which resembles spoken communication, that problem is made much more common.

The cuneiform tablet approach to the analysis of tweets is to assume that some particular tweet stands alone (which it may or may not do), and to then continue to dissect it on the basis of  its own contents.  In an extreme form this can resemble the way archeologists use a cuneiform tablet, written by one scribe,  to draw conclusions about, say,  the ancient Sumerians.


Monday, February 03, 2014

The Washington Redskins. Or What's In A Name.

If you have followed the discussion about the name change proposal for  Washington Redskins, I strongly recommend reading this article (to the very end)

It both explains why such proposals are not very important for at least some groups of Native Americans and why, at the same time, they can be very important, and it offers a lot of important nuance and additional information: 

It explains about the racial profiling of those who live on the reservation, it mentions the very high unemployment rate and other large problems the locals face and, in my opinion, it asks why we are not having national movements to fix the enormous economic problems of many Native Americans.

This is something I see missing in the privilege-based debates about gender, race or ethnicity or both of those at the same time.  Despite certain clear benefits that come from introspection in understanding one's own privileged position on various social thermometers, that understanding doesn't necessarily result in workable proposals for change about the underpinnings, so to speak.  We need more resources for the reservations, more resources for Native Americans in general,  not just the removal of team names which appropriate Native American history.