As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly

I don’t get Jesse Singal. I don’t pay much attention to him, but one thing I know is that he is the mainstream media’s go-to guy for ‘science’ reporting on trans issues, that he knows less about trans people than I do (and I don’t claim authority), and that trans people detest him. Julia Serano has been writing about this guy for some time.

Many people know of Jesse Singal as a senior/science editor at New York Magazine. Within transgender communities, Singal has garnered a reputation (particularly over the last two years) for repeatedly promoting ideas that are in opposition to, or which flat-out undermine, trans people’s perspectives on issues that impact our lives. He has done this in the form of seemingly serious-minded articles, but also in more flippant or provocative exchanges from his Twitter account (which he recently shut down).

He has a reputation, and not a good one. That should be the message you take from this. You could argue that it isn’t deserved (I’d disagree), you can say that you like his take on things or that he’s a good writer, but that’s all irrelevant to the main problem here: the community that he writes about, and weirdly frequently writes about, dislikes his take and frequently argues — calmly and dispassionately, as Serano did — against his opinions, and every time he intrudes into trans concerns, he is unwelcome and a lightning rod for anger. Serano isn’t the only one!

If you must know one thing about journalist Jesse Singal, it’s that he loves reporting on trans issues—trans kids, in particular. If you must know another thing, it’s that a lot of trans people, myself included, loathe his coverage of trans issues with a once-fiery passion that has since cooled into a dormant rage.

His reputation as a transphobe who is compelled to make frequent complaints about the trans community is the problem here…so why do major publications seek out his writings on the subject? They must know that transgender men and women are going to be angered by his positions.

On Monday, The Atlantic revealed that they are the latest mainstream publication to play host to Singal’s bullshit, publishing “When Children Say They’re Trans,” the cover story for their upcoming July/August issue.

I’m going to guess that the reason major publications like The Atlantic pay Jesse Singal to write is that they like dumping on the transgender community — that they are rewarded with profit by the cisgender masses, like me, for putting the seal of approval on Singal’s biases.

It’s a misleading article, too. The cover is all about the difficulties of transitioning and makes these alarming claims about 13 year olds wanting hormones (with pubescent kids, the question is about hormone blockers) and surgery (every article I’ve read by a trans person on this subject talks about how surgery isn’t required, that it’s a decision made only after long consideration, and why are you so concerned about what’s in their pants anyway?), and then the article itself focuses almost entirely on adults who detransitioned. It gives the impression that every trans man and woman eventually ends up unhappy and wanting to go back to their ‘natural’ state.

But here’s the big question.

Why has The Atlantic decided to publish as its cover story a cis writer’s article about trans people who aren’t trans—during Pride month, no less? Why is this the only detransition narrative that most media seems interested in covering?

Ooh, ooh, I can answer those! Because The Atlantic only wants to hear from the cis perspective, and they only want articles that cast doubt and discourage people from transitioning. And Jesse Singal is the man you go to if you want someone eager to express exactly those opinions.

Publications, take note: Jesse Singal is more than a little creepy on the subject of transgender issues. He is the last person you want gracing your cover.

What the heck is going on at the University of Rochester?

Let’s check in on the ongoing saga of T. Florian Jaeger, shall we? He’s a computation linguist working in the cognitive sciences department at the University of Rochester whose tenure so far has been a real shitshow, and also a familiar story. He’s a sexist pig who doesn’t recognize boundaries or any limits to his behavior. One of the stars of the place, Richard Aslin, resigned his position over the ongoing behavior of Jaeger, the former president of the university, Joel Seligman, resigned the day the investigative report was published, and other faculty, like Jessica Cantlon and Brad Mahon, followed suit. Now Celeste Kidd and Steven Piantadosi have quit.

That is a department in a shambles. The wave of resignations sends a very clear message that this is not a place where you want to work — you’d have to be desperate to take a job in the cognitive sciences at Rochester. And that means they’re going to get worse, and not the least because the rot, Jaeger, is still there, supported by the administration.

Kidd and Piantadosi made public their resignation letter. Ouch.

University of Rochester President Richard Feldman has declined to sanction, much less fire, T. Florian Jaeger, a professor who sent an unwanted picture of his penis to a student; made insulting and objectifying comments about female students’ sexual desirability, appearance, and vaginal taste; used drugs at a lab retreat with students, and had sex with an undergraduate student, among many other unethical behaviors. These are not accusations. These actions were confirmed by the University of Rochester’s own investigation. The University also verified that such behavior led at least ten women to avoid Jaeger to the detriment of their careers.1 President Feldman declines to take responsibility for his own refusal to punish Jaeger, instead blaming the faculty senate, a body which he knows has no authority to impose sanctions. Unbelievably, Former President Joel Seligman and Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department Chair Greg DeAngelis both publicly defended Jaeger’s tenure — to the media and faculty senate respectively — by an appeal to the sanctity of “academic freedom”.

Holy crap. That’s not what academic freedom means. It does not mean that professors get to rob banks on the side with no repercussions on their career; it does not mean you get to fuck up a required part of your job, teaching, and no one can fire you for dereliction of your duties. This is the kind of thing that gives tenure and academic freedom a bad name when it is badly abused.

The university administration is also failing to do their job. They’ve got faculty resigning right and left, they’ve got ten women whose careers have been harmed, the university’s reputation is wrecked, and they’re trading all that to keep this one man, T. Florian Jaeger, in his job. I’m going to take a wild guess that Jaeger is also viciously litigious and has let the admins know that he plans to be an expensive headache if they don’t defend him.

Oh, and there’s a footnote to Kidd’s and Piantadosi’s letter.

1President Feldman returned Jaeger to teaching undergraduates shortly after the University’s own investigation defended with the argument that “A combination of Jaeger’s harsh and demeaning language, flirtatious behavior, use of sexual innuendo, promiscuous reputation, open relationships with students and blurring of social and professional lines all contributed to some extent [to students avoiding him], but we cannot unravel the degree to which women avoided Jaeger because of the sexual elements in his conduct, as oppose to other simply offensive or unappealing aspects of his personality.”

Wow. So his repellent personality so thoroughly blends in with his despicable attitude towards women that they can’t be sure which of the two makes him a terrible colleague and bad teacher, so they’re restoring his undergraduate teaching duties. Does this make any sense at all? All aspects of his performance are equally awful, masking which bits are due to sexism and misogyny, so hey, let’s put him in a classroom with 18 year old men and women.

But here’s the most chilling part for the future of Rochester.

Jaeger is not named in the federal lawsuit against the university and has said he believes the department, and his lab, are “worth rebuilding.” He will resume teaching in the fall after spending the 2017-18 school year mostly away from campus.

Now that he’s driven away the ethical, principled faculty, T. Florian Jaeger’s way is clear to rebuild the department in his own image.

Rebecca Traister on Bill Clinton

I feel terrible that Al Franken had to resign. He was a good senator, one of the best, but it was all that other behavior that had to be clearly and unambiguously censured in the strongest terms. Any doubts I might have had were dispelled by Bill Clinton, of all people.

The interaction happened during an interview Clinton did, alongside Patterson, with the Today show’s Craig Melvin. Melvin kicked things off by asking Clinton about how his relationship with Lewinsky — consensual but nonetheless a clear abuse of professional and sexual power — had sullied recent reassessments of his presidency.

Clinton reared back, flustered. “We have a right to change the rules but we don’t have a right to change the facts,” he said, suggesting that Melvin didn’t know the facts of the Lewinsky case. Clinton claimed to “like the #MeToo movement; it’s way overdue.” But when Melvin pressed him on whether it had prompted him to rethink his own past behavior, like so many millions of other men and women around the world — including Lewinsky in a March Vanity Fair essay — he sputtered that of course he hadn’t, because he’d “felt terrible then.”

He spends a lot of time insisting that there are “facts” that the interviewer is glossing over, implying that they exonerate him. I think the only fact that matters is that he took advantage of a star-struck young intern in his office, a fact that he has admitted was true.There’s no getting around that. But he “felt terrible”. Gosh. About what? That he exploited this woman, or that he got caught?

“Nobody believes that I got out of that for free. I left the White House 16 million dollars in debt,” Clinton said, as if having paid a literal debt was the extent of the work to be done in the midst of a cultural and social reckoning. Then, as if he’d forgotten the rules of time and space and the evolution of progressive movements, Clinton kicked into full self-defense mode: “This was litigated 20 years ago … Two-thirds of the American people sided with me; I had a sexual-harassment policy when I was governor in the ’80s; I had two women chiefs of staff when I was the governor; women were overrepresented in the attorneys general office in the ’70s.”

I will happily admit that Clinton was a better man for women’s rights than the Republican hypocrites who used his personal misdeeds to make him pay that price and to hound him relentlessly in office; shouldn’t Newt Gingrich be paying an even more savage price for his behavior? I agree that American political culture is a morass of double-standards, and that a Democrat faces higher standards for personal probity than Republicans. But what I want to see is recognition that he was wrong, an acknowledgement that he screwed up badly, rather than whining about how he was sorry and he paid the price.

I was getting exasperated with Clinton’s obstinacy about admitting a huge mistake, but then James Patterson, his ally, leapt in and delivered the coup de grâce.

Toward the end, James Patterson jumped in, perhaps hoping to assist his floundering co-author: “This thing was 20 years ago. Come on. Let’s talk about JFK. Let’s talk about LBJ. Stop already.” Clinton took the opportunity to angrily query Melvin: “You think President Kennedy should have resigned? Do you think President Johnson should have resigned?”

Hmm. Well. When you put it that way…YES. You’re saying that there has been 60 years of deplorable behavior in the Oval Office while the American public mostly turns a blind eye, and the political parties actively shelter sexual predators? I hadn’t thought of it that way. But maybe if we’d told the American president in the 1960s that he doesn’t get to use the power of his office to go on pussy patrol, there would have been an example set that guys, you have to keep it in your pants. You have a job to do.

This isn’t an unrealistic demand for purity and perfection. This is not something that is particularly hard to do: recognize that you have a professional relationship with your colleagues, not a romantic one, and there are lines you don’t get to cross. Most of us men can handle that just fine — it’s no hardship — in our working and personal life, it’s just a few that are oblivious to the barriers. It doesn’t help that the most prestigious and high paying jobs seem to be accompanied by the perk that you get to throw away all personal responsibility and ignore the autonomy and humanity of your underlings.

Traister deserves the last word:

Considering all this, it is truly only a powerful white man who could have lived the past 20 years — through the defeat of his wife and the social revolution it helped to galvanize — and think that none of this effort or upheaval applied to him, especially given that so much of it applies to him directly. So as he goes on to sell more copies of his book I’d advise Bill Clinton to stop bitching about how this is Kennedy-era ancient history. This is the muck that many of us have been swimming in for decades, and much of it is of your making. Come on in; the water is sickeningly warm.

Breaking down the barriers

Science magazine has just summarized this massive report on sexual harassment in the sciences. Really, it’s a big file that will cost you $59 if you order it as a book, but it’s offered as a free PDF by National Academies Press, so you have no excuse for not getting it, but the short summary is appreciated.

The report, Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, noted that many surveys fail to rigorously evaluate sexual harassment. It used data from large surveys done at two major research universities—the University of Texas system and the Pennsylvania State University system—to describe kinds of sexual harassment directed at students by faculty and staff. The most common was “sexist hostility,” such as demeaning jokes or comments that women are not smart enough to succeed in science, reported by 25% of female engineering students and 50% of female medical students in the Texas system. The incidence of female students experiencing unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion was lower, ranging in both Texas and Pennsylvania between 2% and 5% for the former and about 1% for the latter. But the report declares that a hostile environment—even if it consists “more of putdowns than come-ons,” as Johnson puts it—makes unwanted sexual attention and coercion more likely.

The report says women in science, engineering, or medicine who are harassed may abandon leadership opportunities to dodge perpetrators, leave their institutions, or leave science altogether. It also highlights the ineffectiveness of ubiquitous, online sexual harassment training and notes what is likely massive underreporting of sexual harassment by women who justifiably fear retaliation. To retain the talents of women in science, the authors write, will require true cultural change rather than “symbolic compliance” with civil rights laws.

I have a prediction: there are going to be people who are only going to see the 1% number and are going to argue that because it’s so low, sexual harassment isn’t a problem. Except that’s the number for actual sexual coercion of female students, and would you go into a field where there’s a 1% chance you’ll be raped or your advisor was going to pressure you for sex? The key numbers are that between a quarter and a half of all women students are going to face sexist discouragement, and that’s a huge pressure to turn away and turn off qualified prospective scientists. It has to be called out and ended.

Also note that those numbers are affected by a serious problem with underreporting.

Read this Twitter thread by Jennifer Raff on her experience as an undergraduate looking for advice on grad school, and being actively discouraged by a faculty member. It’s the opposite of what I experienced in a similar situation. The only difference I can see is that her undergrad GPA was a bit higher than mine, and she’s a woman.

Who wants to do a live chat about abortion on Saturday?

I thought the chat yesterday was productive and fun, and it was really good to share the screen with someone who would bring in new questions, and I’d like to do something along those same lines next weekend. I’m thinking I’d have some similar prepared remarks for the first half hour or so, followed by a free-for-all conversation.

My topic for this next event will be “A developmental biologist’s perspective on abortion”, but don’t you hate it when some dude starts hectoring the wimmin on the right way to think about their bodies? If I’m going to do this, I damn well give equal time to someone who could get or could have gotten pregnant, to give their perspective. I don’t mean someone who thinks abortions are Satan’s t-shirt gun — I’m not setting up a debate — but someone who can complement my abstract view with something more personal.

If you’re interested, email me and we can arrange it.

P.S. If you’ve never had a uterus or ovaries and think you have an informed take on the subject, I’ll consider including you, too — make your case in the email. But I will not have a panel of guys arguing on this subject.

Has anyone ever been inspired by a school administrator?

I’m asking sincerely. I’m sure it happens. I just don’t know of any cases. I can think back and make a long list of teachers who got me excited about diverse topics, but administration is a thankless job, and there isn’t as much opportunity to interact with students in a positive way.

And then, of course, way too many administrators are craven bullies. Like the nameless “officials” who cut Lulabel Seitz’s commencement speech at the instant she criticized the school. It’s at about the 4 minute mark in this video, which also includes Seitz giving the uncensored version.

Here’s what was cut:

“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change, which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same people —” Seitz said before the mic went off. Her speech, then barely audible, continued, “… in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims.”

People in the audience began yell, “Let her speak!” School officials did not turn her microphone back on.

Seitz has accused another student of sexual assault, and the school administration closed ranks to silence her. But we can attach a name to at least one of them!

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the school’s principal, David Stirrat, stands by the decision, saying, “We were trying to make sure our graduation ceremony was appropriate and beautiful.”

How sweet. Are you also as concerned about making sure the sexual assaults on your students are appropriate and beautiful?

David Stirrat, you are why I do not have fond memories of any high school administrators, who were all button-down conservative a-holes who were more interested in providing cover for business and religious leaders in the community, and not at all about helping students.

Sometimes, old people have strange ideas

A novelist I’d never heard of has things to say.

Modern men are turning to gay affairs because they are “terrified” of women, Jilly Cooper has suggested.

That makes no sense. I’m afraid of X so I do Y? I have a fear of heights so I’ve decided to take up cave diving. Right.

I think gay men are gay because they are attracted to men, not because they’re necessarily repelled by women.

And hey, by this logic, shouldn’t all women be lesbians?

In a somewhat scathing verdict, the famously racy novelist said that men also cry “all the time”.

Men have as much capacity for emotion as women. This one is at least true in the spirit of the answer. I don’t understand what is “scathing” about the comment.

She added that women wear short skirts but have “do not touch tattooed across their knees” – and said she was “worried” about the effect the Me Too campaign may have on views of courtship.

She is an erotic romance novelist, I guess. I’m getting the impression I wouldn’t like her books very much, since her romantic heroes must be bold men who see a skirt as an invitation to get under it, and the heroine better not complain about it.

Back in my courtin’ days, in the long long ago, #MeToo wouldn’t have affected me, and I would not have been afraid of women, because I never intimidated anyone into forced sex, nor did I harass anyone or take inappropriate liberties with women. I think that’s the case with most men.

It’s only the assholes who should be afraid.

Retired for “health reasons”

One thing I’ll agree with: Karl Kjer was one sick fuck. He was an entomologist at UC Davis who quietly retired “for health reasons” in 2016, and no one bothered to publicly mention what was learned in 2015.

“When I first started working with Kjer, we were going to set up a really nice imaging system for publications or just high-def microphotography [of] specimens we were going to use for his research,” the junior specialist said. “Since we did not get our imaging system first, we decided to kind of prepare for it, and so he [Kjer] asked me to order two hard drives.”

After opening files on just one of the two university-purchased hard drives stored in Kjer’s office over Winter Break, the junior specialist and volunteer found a lot of “terrible images that he recorded of quite a lot of women without them knowing.”

“There was a lot of folders of internet pornography that he downloaded, and we kind of closed the window and looked at each other like, ‘What did we just find?’” the junior specialist said. “At a later point, after we looked through it and made notes [of] when they were taken, when did he last access them — they were spanning at least all the way back from 2010, up to 2012, 2013. A lot of them said that he was still accessing them up to 2015, when I was working.”

In addition to the internet pornography stored on the hard drives, the junior specialist estimates that there were more than 10 videos Kjer had recorded himself, including a video of him installing the camera in the bathroom in his home in New Jersey. It appeared the camera was pointed at the shower and some individuals being filmed were partially clothed while others were nude — “all of them definitely did not know they were being filmed or imaged at the time.”

He had been clandestinely filming students in his bathroom, and filing the videos away in his porn collection on hard drives he purchased with grant money. That’s enough to get one fired, but not enough to bring down public shame on their heads, I guess. Gwen Pearson has some cogent comments on the university’s efforts to dismiss him on the down low.

Pearson discussed what she says is a pattern in the scientific community where a male professional will engage in inappropriate behavior, resign and quickly find another job.

“Right about the time they’re called on it, and proceedings begin, if they resign, it’s over because they’re no longer an employee and the university no longer has any sway over that,” Pearson said. “Very often what happens is […] someone will get in trouble and resign, start over at a new institution and their bad behavior doesn’t necessarily follow them from institution to institution.”

An example of this pattern, which Pearson discussed, is that of the accusations of sexual misconduct as well as research misconduct aimed at University of Kentucky Professor of Entomology James Harwood, who subsequently resigned from his position. The university decided not to pursue an investigation after Harwood’s resignation.

“I’ve seen it happen a couple of times where someone resigns and back channel talk is all — they get caught doing something they shouldn’t have done — and they get a new job,” Pearson said. “It really baffles me why, when there’s such a huge pool of talented scientists, why do we keep rehiring people who we know behave badly?”

I get it. Universities don’t want to have to deal with an ugly mess in their own back yard, so it’s in their interests to quietly shuffle the bad actor away. It’s a strategy for evading responsibility, and that’s how it persists.

Hold the presses! Maybe Americans aren’t so cruel after all!

Some of them exhibit extreme Christian kindness and charity.

“You don’t believe that gay people should be stoned to death, do you?” Skylar asked.

“I believe the Bible puts the death penalty on it,” Powell replied. “Obviously, not by me or anybody in a regular society, obviously. I believe it’s the government’s job to execute criminals. I believe that the Bible says clearly that homosexuality is a criminal crime. It’s a crime. It’s one of the worst crimes ever.”

“Is that what you’re advocating for?” Skylar pressed. “That our government should stone gays to death to execute them?”

Powell took the opportunity to state that he believes in humane executions when it comes to gay people.

“By whatever means they execute people. And obviously, I believe in humane, you know, putting to death,” Powell replied.

Yeah. In ‘Murica, we don’t stone gays to death.

But wait! After we dehumanize them enough to plan to murder them, what’s the point of this “humane” nonsense? Won’t that get in the way of efficiency? I don’t think Powell has thought this through.

The message of feminism is WHAT??!?

I finally got around to reading that Cathy Young op-ed about Jordan Peterson — I’ve been distracted, and the names “Cathy Young” and “Jordan Peterson” do not inspire enthusiasm. It was rather awful.

The whole thing can be summarized briefly as, “Gosh, Jordan Peterson is kinda goofy on some stuff, but he is exactly right when he bashes on feminism”. It’s about what you’d expect from Young, who is an anti-feminist in the same vein as Christina Hoff Sommers. There are lots of moments where I’m just flabbergasted at her biases.

For all his flaws, Peterson is tapping into a very real frustration: More than half a century after the modern feminist revolution began in the 1960s, we have yet to figure out new rules for partnership between men and women.

No, we’ve got no problems figuring out the rules, they’re easy. Treat women with the same respect you would men. She also glosses over the real problem, that women in the workplace are not there to form a “partnership”, especially not a sexual partnership, with their male colleagues. That’s the real problem, that some men are incapable of relating to women without assuming that their role as women is to be sexual…when it’s not. We don’t have an issue with men flirting with their male colleagues, yet for some reason it’s not possible for women to be present without sexual banter flying about, and when it happens, it’s all the woman’s fault.

Although Peterson can sound like a chauvinistic crank when he seems to suggest that women incite sexual harassment by wearing makeup to the office, his larger points — that evolving norms are generating confusion and mixed signals, and that women play a role in sexualizing work environments — are far from absurd.

Young is incorrect. They are totally absurd. He claims that women wear red lipstick because they turn red during sexual arousal. No, that’s not it. It’s because we have social conventions of attractiveness that differ for men and women, and we all heed them out of a general interest in fitting in, and in being presentable in the workplace. Why do men shave their faces, wear neckties, and shun wearing skirts? I’m sure you can invent a biological rationale for all of that, but that doesn’t make it true. A woman accepting the social standards for appearance of her peers and community is no more flaunting her sexual availability than is a man doing likewise — she is trying to generally look good, just like every other person on the job.

I mean, otherwise, look at the man in that interview, wearing a long tie to boast about his possession of a penis. Disgusting. Maybe we need workplace regulations that prohibit ties, pants, and stereotypically masculine hair styles in the office.

Consider: We have rejected traditional sexist proprieties that forbade coarse language in front of “the ladies,” yet a man can now be fired for telling a crude joke that offends a female co-worker. Calling women “the weaker sex” would be considered shockingly retrograde, yet ambivalent sexual encounters are easily recast as violations of women, with men presumed entirely responsible for ensuring consent. Workplace romances abound, yet flirting could be one step away from someone’s idea of sexual harassment.

I thought this was enlightening, although perhaps not in the way Young intended. Go ahead, take a look at the link she gives for some radio hosts getting fired for telling a crude joke that offends a woman. The story actually says there were “multiple complaints against both hosts over the course of more than a dozen years” and that there were many “allegations of inappropriate comments and bullying”.

This kind of minimizing is a common strategy by the anti-feminists. A pattern of frequent abuse and belittling behavior is recast as a one-off incident, and a man is being punished for a brief mistake. But that’s not the case. In her example, these men had multiple warnings and explicit prior actions to change their behaviors. One was given “one-on-one anti-harassment training for him and a warning…that he was creating an uncomfortable work environment”, which is a darned serious step to take prior to their firing. These were apparently popular radio hosts, so the station wasn’t going to fire them on a whim — there was sustained provocation.

But sure, it was just a crude joke.

The conclusion of Young’s piece is blatantly dishonest, and I’m surprised no editor caught it and said they couldn’t possibly publish this lie.

For all its successes, contemporary feminism’s main message to men is not one of equal partnership. Rather, it’s: Repent, abase yourself, and be an obedient feminist ally — and we still won’t trust you. It’s no wonder that Peterson has found an eager audience in this climate. If feminists don’t like his message, they should offer a better one.

Wow. First she says the message of feminism is Repent, abase yourself, and be an obedient feminist ally — it isn’t, by the way, and it’s nothing but the ridiculous faux feminism Young always bashes — and then she blames feminism for having a poor message, when the message is purely hers.

How about if we ask a real feminist, someone like bell hooks, for instance, what the real message of feminism is?

Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.

But maybe she thinks men are supposed to abase themselves and be obedient?

When men embrace feminist thinking and preactice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.

It seems to me that feminism already has a better message than that bullshit Cathy Young makes up. It’s definitely a lot better than the nonsense Jordan Peterson peddles.