The valorisation of ignorance

Here today with another old post from TigTog, this time about the “valorisation of ignorance“–anti-intellectualism–in Australian politics. The topic is near and dear to my heart since intellectual fraudery is basically the entire reason this blog exists.

There has been too much under-reaction to what the government is advocating, so let me spell it out: if these grants shouldn’t happen then our universities shouldn’t have Arts faculties. If this use of resources is a waste then our universities should be downgraded to vocational training centres, all academics not working in medicine or technology should lose their jobs, and Australia can kiss goodbye to the income we get selling our education overseas, because people from other parts of the world won’t pay huge amounts of money to travel here for a qualification from an institution that can’t command international respect.

Kelly keeps referring to making Australia competitive, so let’s talk about that. Education is a product; you can’t sell it if what you are producing isn’t any good. The way the world judges whether you are capable of offering a good education is by looking at the quality of the research you publish. Not the immediate practical usefulness of the topic, the quality of the scholarship. If we stop participating in the system of higher learning engaged in by the rest of the world, it will take no time for us to have no standing in the international higher education scene. Universities function as a world-wide community, and they are wildly competitive. You fall behind, you disappear. Not publishing research across the breadth of potential fields of knowledge is to fall behind. If you want any hope of being competitive in education, you can’t limit your research to a few restricted areas.

You can’t publish without doing research, and no publications, no credibility. This is how the world measures whether people doing higher level intellectual work are any good or not. If our academics can’t prove they are good at what they do, no one will pay to come to their institutions to study under their guidance. People come to university to learn from experts. Experts carry out research. Grants pay their wages while they do. It is not enough for a university to only have experts in the narrow fields that sell best to overseas students. Universities are judged on the full breadth of what they produce, an institution that no longer publishes in philosophy, history or literature will not be seen as a serious site of intellectual activity. Our brand in the marketplace for that immensely valuable product, education, will be trashed.

Read more here.

-Shiv

Sex as a social construct

I had a lot of people click on the hyperlink I provided on my last long-form post in support of the claim that what is commonly referred to as “biological sex” is itself still a social model, and one that is often taught at an incomplete level at most public education institutions. Since I take the disproportionately large number of clicks to be an implicit interest in the idea, I’ve decided to signal boost another argument that explores this further. This is an oldie-but-goodie from Alex, a former FTB blogger:

A framework, not a fact

In her monologue above, Milinovich actually gives four criteria (by my count) for male/female sex determination.

  • Chromosomes: ‘[A] male has XY chromosomes and female, XX’.
  • Penis/vagina: ‘A male mammal has a penis . . . a female mammal has a vagina’.
  • Other sex organs: ‘A male mammal has . . . seminal vesicles, a prostate gland; a female has a . . . cervix, uterus, oviducts’.
  • Secondary sex characteristics: ‘size, vocal cartilage and musculature’, ‘a female mammal has . . . mammary glands’, a male facial hair, etc.

A longer, fuller list could look like this:

  • Chromosomes (XX/XY)
  • Penis/vagina
  • Gonads (testes/ovaries)
  • Other sex organs: seminal vesicle, prostate gland/oviducts, Skene’s gland, cervix, uterus
  • Secondary sex characteristics: facial hair, greater height and breadth, deeper voice/wider hips, breasts, etc.
  • Gametes: sperm production/menstruation
  • Hormone levels: high testosterone, low oestrogen/high oestrogen, low testosterone

Milinovich runs those traits she does name together, suggesting a male necessarily has XY chromosomes and a penis and a prostate gland and seminal vesicles and a distinct build and a deeper voice (her blog adds sperm production to this list) – that biological maleness requires all ‘male’ features to be present. Especially with others in the mix like those above, this co-presence is far from reliable.

Chromosomes, as Anne Fausto-Sterling details in Sexing the Body, can’t be relied on as indicators of the other traits here – sets exist beyond XX and XY, as do humans in whom both are found and outwardly ‘female-bodied’ people with the latter. Anatomy comes in endless combinations, such that estimates of ‘ambiguous’ sets’ commonness vary wildly, with some as high as one in twenty-five (John Money, cited in Fausto-Sterling’s work). Bodies with the ‘wrong’ features – height, hair, breast tissue, Adam’s apples – are common. Everyone preadolescent, postmenopausal or otherwise infertile is sexless judging by sperm and ova. Hormones, like most of these attributes, can be altered at will.

When not all these tests are passed, which overrule which? Milinovich describes people with ‘female’ anatomy and XY chromosomes as male, for example – suggesting, confusingly, that she doesn’t think maleness requires physical traits. What reason is there to choose genes rather than body parts when diagnosing sex, and not vice versa? In practice, things tend to go the other way: medics who judge a foetus’s sex via ultrasound, for instance, do so only by identifying outer sex organs, and I know nothing about my chromosomes, interior sex organs, hormones or fertility. The fact (or assumption) I have a penis is seen as enough, most of the time, to classify my sex as male, but why should it outweigh these unknown factors?

It’s common enough for adult cisgender men – deemed male at birth, with bodies read straightforwardly that way – not to grow facial hair. I know two or three who don’t; so probably do you. This isn’t seen to affect their physical sex. Why then, barring blunt intuition, should the absence of a penis? We can argue facial hair is only a secondary sex characteristic, and penises a primary one, but this relies itself on defining sex by reproductive role: the logic is circular. From that standpoint, moreover, why not make testes the sole determinant, so people possessing them and a vulva were ‘males’? Testes have, after all, the more distinct and self-contained function of sperm production. A penis, being a shell for the urethra, is just another pipe among the plumbing – we’ve no grounds except cultural ones to treat it differently from a vas deferens. So why is it more necessary for ‘maleness’?

Milinovich calls sex a static, stubborn fact, then moves inconsistently between ideas (see above) about what it is. If she herself can’t pick a definition, what does this suggest?

Sex is a framework, not a fact – a means of interpreting biology, but not a part of it. Of course menstruation, chromosomes and so on aren’t social constructs, but the argument isn’t over their existence, it’s over what they mean. That’s not about empirical reality. Vaginas are as real as Pluto is; defining them as female is like defining Pluto as a planet, a question of inscription not description.

Alex is quite humble in estimating his own ability, but he’s nailed it.

-Shiv

No one is obligated to forgive

I’m a “mutually assured destruction” kind of gal. Christians had whole centuries in Europe to put their “turn the other cheek” philosophy into practice… we now call that period the Dark Ages for a reason. It don’t work. Convincing your many enemies that it costs more to hurt you than they’ll get out of it, however, appeals to even the ethically bankrupt, because it appeals to that unceasing selfishness they possess. Given that it is often the unceasingly selfish who gain power, this seems to me a smarter strategy than blanket forgiveness, which tells the abuser that they have permission to abuse again.

When my brothers and I fought, growing up, we were immediately halted and told to apologize.

“Say you’re sorry,” my dad would command, towering over us, brows furrowed.

I’d purse my lips and ball my fists before hissing a “sorry” between clenched teeth.

“Now, hug. Say ‘I forgive you,’ and tell each other ‘I love you,’” my dad would say next.

We did — and then stormed off to other rooms to avoid getting ourselves grounded in a moment of untempered rage.

The same scenario played out in my religious teachings for years. After all, my family and my preachers told me, Christianity itself exists because Jesus forgave our sin-riddled selves, so much that he died for us.

The sacrificial lamb metaphor was never one I completely grasped growing up, though. It never quite made sense to me that some oppressive leaders slaughtered the human embodiment of my religion’s deity because I was going to someday be born, bully my little brother, and go to hell for it. And every time I asked how that sacrifice worked logistically, I was given dismissive answers or elusive explanations with too many contemporary Christian buzzwords like “covenant” and “unconditional.” An English degree later, and I still don’t quite get it.

It’s with this same convoluted understanding that, as an adult atheist who must respect her family’s religious views in order to maintain healthy relationships with them, I’ve been forced to ask a question that Junior Asparagus never posed: If Christians are supposed to forgive every enemy, every single time, does that still apply when forgiveness could cause more harm than good?

I ain’t buyin’ it.

-Shiv

 

Signal boosting: Sex negative Christianity and ace folks

Siggy has a fantastic post on his blag about the impact of sex-negativity in Christianity on ace folks:

In ace discussion, one thing we talk about is “delayed realization”, when people realize that they’re ace much later than you’d expect. It’s the realization that, oh, people weren’t doing it just to be cool, they’re actually really into sex! Or else it’s the realization, hey this much-vaunted sex thing isn’t that great at all. Sadly for many, the realization comes only after being in a relationship, or even multiple relationships.

Christian views on sex often exacerbate the delayed realization. According to many Christian ace accounts I’ve heard, they receive all this messaging which doesn’t just tell them to resist sex, but which also implies that resisting sex is really difficult. This causes cognitive dissonance, but it isn’t enough to make a person realize they’re ace because the assumption is unspoken, and no alternative possibilities are offered. Sometimes, the resolution to this dissonance is to say, I’ll probably like sex once I’m married.

Read more here.

-Shiv

that double standard tho

Last Friday, Silentbob pointed out that TigTog, a radical feminist whose work I’ve occasionally encountered on teh interwebs, sometimes comments on FTB. From there I figured I could check out her blog, and I found a few excellent posts I’ll signal boost over the next couple weeks.

The first is a curious double standard which I wrote about on Friday, albeit with a different pair of power groups. TigTog writes about the double standard between criticisms from men (which are viewed as a dialogue and contribution to free speech) and criticisms from women (which are viewed as terrible censorship) despite the fact that the content of the criticisms isn’t overly different, based on a kerfluffle that started all the way back in 2013.

This time it’s women objecting to sexist content in the professional magazine for the Science Fiction Writers Of America who are causing Deep Rifts™. Pointing out that discussing female editors and writers in terms of how good they look in a bathing suit is a blatantly disrespectful trivialision of the work these women do and would never happen in a discussion of male editorsand writers and is therefore sexist and a double standard: that sort of talk is, according to the two men who did that, a call for censorship and suppression of their free speech.  As for complaining in the SWFA forum about a male columnist recommending women take Barbie as a role model to “maintain our quiet dignity as a woman should”?  Well, that was just making the forum  “the arena for difference”.

Hey, whatever happened to all that free speech crowd’s support for their beloved aphorism: “the only remedy for bad speech is more speech”?

Oh yeah – the ideal of more and more and more speech being an axiomatic good only applies when it’s men who are expressing contrary opinions to others. When women express our contrary opinions to men, we’re trying to silence them entirely. Because we’re just that evil and divisive.

It’s double standards all the way down. (And before anybody in the atheoskeptosphere starts Vaculating along the lines of “what about your double standards?” with respect to women identifying “what-Vacula-calls-disagreement” as an intimidatory silencing campaign, if only all the Vaculators were doing was “disagreeing” then you might have a point, but that isn’t what’s happening and you know it.  Refusing to engage with vexatious “you’re not allowed to ignore me” types is not a refusal to defend one’s ideas generally: it’s simply being aware that DARVO is the game being played and refusing to play it.)

Read more about this here.

Of course, the exact same power dynamic is sometimes re-created by TERFs who insist that any response to their material constitutes a grave moral failing, while issuing their poisonous diktats is seen as morally righteous.

-Shiv

Intersex devbio, gender variance, and sex essentialists

Dr. Cary Costello has a piece up about the interactions between intersex folks, sex essentialist/trans exclusionary feminists, and gender variance.

It’s a nice piece because it demonstrates the impact of sex & gender assignment and how this procedure is generally undisturbed upon the discovery of intersex developmental biology–the intersex individual is often still given a binary sex assignment, and this generally remains true across the world. If the medical establishment ever pulls its head out of its ass and stops doing this to intersex newborns, trans feminism (including my own) will have to account for persons who are assigned intersex at birth or risk being obsolete, in addition to the very notions of “cis” and “trans” not mapping neatly onto intersex experiences.

[Read more…]

Behind the walls of America’s prisons

Heather Ann Thompson has completed a comprehensive review of policies and case law that affect the American incarceral system, and it’s a disturbing read:

There is, in fact, a long history of the public being kept away from prisons so that corrections officials could run them as they wished. For much of the 19th and into the 20th century, state politicians’ deeply ingrained fear of federal encroachment on their power more generally translated into the so-called “hands-off doctrine” when it came to how they ran their prisons. Prison authorities, it was understood, had the right to do what they wanted to those in their charge.

Of course prisoners routinely tried to bring attention to the abuses that happened to them. But time and again, and most notably in the infamous 1871 case Ruffin v. Commonwealth, their bid to be treated as human beings was formally denied. In fact, according to the court in this case, prisoners were “slaves of the state.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, though, in response to escalating protests in penal facilities and in cities across the country, prisoners finally gained some rights. In turn, the public began to learn a bit more about what was happening to them behind bars.

It was, for example, deeply significant when the Warren Court opined in a 1974 case, Wolff v. McDonnell, that

“a prisoner is not wholly stripped of constitutional protections when he is imprisoned for crime. There is no iron curtain drawn between the Constitution and the prisons of this country.”

However, at the moment that more light was being shone on prison conditions because of specific judicial rulings, it was also clear that serious limitations on the public’s access to these institutions would remain and, overtime, actually increase.

In 1974, the court ruled in Pell v. Procunier that prisoners’ First Amendment rights were in fact limited. In this case the court held that journalists, the people who might hear prisoner accounts of abuse and share them with the public, “have no constitutional right of access to prisons or their inmates beyond that afforded to the general public.” As Ted Kennedy noted passionately before his colleagues in the Senate, this decision was alarming since, as he pointed out, “the public cannot regularly tour the prisons and interview inmates.”

Another significant blow to the public’s access came in 1987 when a decision was rendered in the case Turner v. Safley. The court ruled that prisoners’ rights to speak to the media existed only to the extent that prison authorities didn’t have a reasonable justification for restricting those rights. And the lid on access lowered even farther in the 2003 case Overton v. Bazzetta. The court ruled, in short, that if prison administrators wished to bar visitors to prison, their desires trumped other constitutional considerations such as the First Amendment rights of prisoners.

The court even found that prison officials could prevent visits between prisoners and their kids if the restrictions on visitation were related to “valid interests in maintaining internal security.”

Read more here.

-Shiv

Sexism & racism in astronomy

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has a fantastic essay on Medium up exploring all the various statistics that have been collected on researchers themselves in the field of astronomy:

But ultimately in a world where people who are professional data gatherers and interpreters seem to reject an overwhelming amount of evidence that women (and others) experience systemic and individualized gender discrimination (Tsang 2013; Brinkworth et al. 2016), there is a lot of value in a study that asks the simple question: how do women-lead paper’s citation numbers in astronomy compare with those of men-lead papers? The question is not insignificant, given the way that citation number is used in hiring. The next question is: does this represent a systemic bias against women? If the answer is yes, then it becomes clear that while the non-human objects that we study in astrophysics may be doing their operational calculations objectively, we scientists have some way to go before human structures do the same.

Indeed, Caplar et al. find that papers written by women receive about 10% fewer citations than comparable papers by men. The metaphorical playing field, as we call it in American English, is not level. Since citation numbers are used for hiring, fellowships, and granting, this means that the average woman publishing in astronomy may be starting out with a 10% deficit compared to male applicants for the same programs and jobs. This puts in stark relief the debates about affirmative action — or the rather loaded term “positive discrimination” as they call it in the UK — and whether women should be given extra consideration simply because of their gender. If white men start with a systemic 10% leg up, isn’t it negative discrimination not to affirmatively promote people who are not white men?

Of course, for those of us who work in Women’s Studies and the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STSS), the result is not surprising. Although one might hardly know it from the increasingly popular “diversity and inclusion” discourse in physics and astronomy, STSS has produced intellectual work for decades that tackles the ways in which gender and sex hierarchies and discrimination are deeply embedded in the human production of scientific knowledge. In such works, it is standard to begin with an intersectional analysis (Harding 2011). As defined in Vivian May’s excellent 2015 book, intersectionality “approaches lived identities as interlaced and systems of oppression as enmeshed and mutually reinforcing: one aspect of identity and/or form of inequality is not treated as separable or subordinate” (May 2015) Intersectionality articulates a critical framework for data analysis: the way sexism and racism (among other forms of discrimination) can combine in the life of a woman of color cannot be disaggregated separately into “the sexist stuff” and “the racist stuff,” and the power associated with one’s social positioning with respect to systemic discrimination matters.

This work compliments the fundamental view that science and society co-construct (Jasanoff and Kim 2015; Subramaniam 2014) and not just in discussions of gender. This is in academic parlance a matter for “Science Studies 101,” but quite absent in mainstream discussions by scientists about science and society. (Cheng 2017) In other words, it is no surprise to those of us in STSS that as we excavate data that reflects women’s experiences in astronomy — and science in general — that we are finding that scientific communities mirror the sexism and racism of the broader society in which they exist. Noting that astronomers like Cassini and Huygens played a role in deploying research programs that helped improve the efficiency of shipping enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and their low-cost work product to Europe, it is evident from this and many other examples, that science can be a tool of the oppressor by aiding those who are engaging in oppressive practices such as slavery. (McClellan, 2010) By the same token, the invention of Pasteurization revolutionized public health and changed lives for the better. Science and society are processes working in tandem with each other, unified not (yet) by a Grand Unified Theory of the Universe but rather by humans.

That bit about science and society co-constructing is of vital importance–while people oppose my work for a large variety of reasons, a misguided invocation of “science” is often one of them. This argument fails to comprehend that scientific analysis may neglect a subject because the scientists themselves neglect the subject, to say nothing of how any work in any field may also be subject to interference from outside scientific communities. With respects to gender variance specifically, it also ignores the fact that we have data these days, and that a reasonable analysis ought to account for it.

-Shiv

 

Evangelicals patronizing Planned Parenthood

The anecdote about an abortion protester one day making an appointment in the clinic they demonize was always just that to me–an anecdote, something plausible given the religious right’s penchant for hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance but something also unconfirmed.

Only now, MarieClaire has data.

Data doesn’t exist on just how many women who were raised in this faith actually patronize Planned Parenthood in private, which is a result of the very reason many of them go there: It provides anonymity. We do know that 13 percent of abortions conducted in this country are for women who identify as evangelical protestants, in addition to the 17 percent for more mainline protestants like Lutherans or Methodists, according to a 2014 study by the Guttmacher Institute. When you add in Catholics, that number rises to more than half.

I was raised in an evangelical culture myself and, while doing research for this story, I was taken aback by how often one Christian woman’s experience with Planned Parenthood led me to another’s, and another’s, and another’s. What I once believed was simply a handful of anecdotal instances became an undeniable trend, one that reached into many different backgrounds and beliefs. Some of the women in this article have left the faith in which they were raised, either altogether or adopted more progressive forms of it; others, like Elizabeth, still identify as evangelical Christian, a broad label that often indicates a born-again protestant who adheres to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Some of the women are from cities, others small towns. The common thread that runs through all their stories: Visiting Planned Parenthood was a risk—but one worth taking.

“It’s a very difficult thing for them,” says Lachina, the Planned Parenthood chaplain, who echoes the fact that secrecy is critical for the young Christian women who visit clinics. “They certainly don’t want their parents to know that they’re going to a Planned Parenthood facility,” he says. “They want to be anonymous.”

More valuable than even anonymity, Planned Parenthood provides religious women with honest medical information they likely aren’t getting anywhere else: Research published in 2012 in the Journal of Women’s Health found that weekly church attendance made women half as likely to be receiving any sexual or reproductive health services.

“They gave me an exam and birth control to help with my menstrual cycles, because they said my cycle might be causing problems with my cyst,” Elizabeth says of her first Planned Parenthood appointment. “It was an education.”

Still, the pressure of the community is hard to shake. Evangelical culture tends to be intentionally exclusionary, creating a sense of us-versus-them, and these women had engaged with what they were taught was the very worst of “them.”

Rachel*, a pastor’s wife, felt that pressure fiercely. “I grew up in a strict religious community. Planned Parenthood was the devil,” Rachel says. “Our church talked about Planned Parenthood as a gas chamber and part of the new Holocaust.”

If you think you can stomach the finer points of Evangelical propaganda, read more here.

-Shiv