Stop embarrassing me, Old White Guys!

There’s nothing really wrong with being an Old White Guy — it’s who I am — but every once in a while (OK, fairly frequently, but I never watch Fox News or read the Wall Street Journal, which helps) some other Old White Guy makes me ashamed of my tribe. I’m sorry, Ben Radford, you are so wrong, and look! Two girls, Julia Lavarnway and Rebecca Watson, just kicked your ass in public. They kick it hard. They kick it up and down the street. They gave it such a drubbing that I am feeling uncomfortable sitting down.

Feminist nerd rage

Oh, this was good for a laugh. In fantasy role playing games, there are certain standard roles that have to be filled: the tank, the big heavily armored brute who can take lots of damage; the damage dealers, who may be more fragile, but can pew-pew lots of hurt at the bad guys; and the healers, who can keep everyone healthy and alive during the battles. There are also different kinds of games: ones where you fight monsters set up by the creators of the game, or PvP, player-vs-player, where you fight each other. As you might guess, there are gender-stereotypes associated with each role as well — so lots of people assume that the tanks are all guys and the healers are mostly women (what few women who play these games, anyway), and that women all shy away from PvP.

So I was sent this thread where a woman questions the stereotypes in World of Warcraft. One clueless fellow early on suggests that “women are better at supportive roles and males are (sometimes) better at leading the troops” uses pseudo-evolutionary rationalizations to defend himself…and then the ladies all drop-kick his punk ass. It’s hilarious. I especially liked the woman who talked about playing the tank while breast-feeding.

Also, check out the three year old who spots the patriarchy in a toy store.

The Schwyzer betrayal

I’ve been rather appalled at the Hugo Schwyzer story that has been unfolding unpleasantly lately, but since Ms. Daisy Cutter brought it up and Comrade Physioprof has a good post on it, I thought I’d throw in a few words to the pigpile.

Schwyzer is a professor who lectures on feminism…he’s also a professor who had sex with his students and who tried to murder an ex-girlfriend. We could stop right there; just those acts alone make him contemptible. But for some unfathomable reason, he now makes money lecturing women on feminist ethics and patriarchal culture; would you believe that the title of one of his lectures is “Holding Men Accountable”? And now many people are arguing that he should be recognized as a useful ally for women, that we should forgive and move on, and recognize him as a changed and better person.

EG at Feministe sums up what I think about that.

The ideas that forgiveness and redemption are things we should be granting, that we have the power to grant, that all they require is confession and repentance, that they are things we have a duty to grant each other–those all seem to me to come out of a system of cultural values deeply invested in Christianity, with its emphasis on redemption and repentance. There is, of course, some good to be said of those ideas, but they are also ideas that should be interrogated, because they can be used as an excuse to celebrate abusers and silencing their victims. There are people whom I feel no need to forgive, both personally and in a political sense. Many people felt no need to forgive Christopher Hitchens. Nobody has a right to forgiveness from anybody, and forgiveness in and of itself is not necessarily a virtue.

(I’ve always found the whole Christian emphasis on forgiveness really strange, given their other emphasis on ETERNAL TORTURE FOREVER in the pit of hell for sinners; the ancient Egyptians just annihilated you if you were found morally wanting after death, which seems far more merciful to me.)

I do not forgive Schwyzer, nor do I feel any obligation to try to forgive. He screwed up unconscionably, he violated trusts once, and right now his work on feminism reeks of continuing exploitation. His confession does not reassure me.

My behavior with students from 1996-98 was unacceptable for a male feminist and, for that matter, an ethical person. The question is whether the penalty for that ought to be a lifetime ban from teaching gender studies, or writing about the subjects I write about. Some feminists feel yes, it should be. I disagree, but only because so many wonderful feminist mentors of mine have encouraged me to stay in this work.

At the time that he was exploiting his students for sex, he also knew that his academic mentors regarded that as an extreme violation of ethics — it’s one of those behaviors that can warrant stripping tenure from a faculty member, and we all know that we have a great deal of power over student careers, power that it would be unjust to take advantage of, yet he went ahead and screwed his students anyway. So now he listens to what his mentors say when they tell him what he wants to hear?

I don’t understand why he still holds a job in academia. I especially don’t understand why he’s permitted to teach in a field in which he’s surrounded every day by women students. If he were looking for real redemption, if he really wanted to atone for the abuse of his position, he ought to remove himself from the profession he violated and try to earn respect elsewhere. Maybe he should be the best plumber he can be, or the very best surfer, or a most excellent construction worker, all respectable professions. But he’s already burned all of his bridges as an academic.

Greater biological variability cannot explain differences in opportunity

You’ve probably heard this story many times before: there’s some kind of glass ceiling in the world of science and math that hinders women’s ability to progress. The latest data confirms that something is going wrong.

The United States ranks 31st on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index and is tied for 21st on Social Watch’s Gender Equity Index. Still, the test scores of U.S. high school girls have reached parity with those of boys, and half the undergraduate math degrees awarded in this country go to women.

But after that, something goes off the rails. Just 27% of math Ph.D.s go to women. Exactly the same percentage — 27% — of people with careers in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) fields are women. Women constitute a very similar number — 30% — of STEM college professors.

This is a problem, and not just from an equality standpoint, says math professor Rebecca Goldin, an associate professor of mathematics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and director of research at the university’s Statistical Assessment Service. “Scientific and mathematical progress relies on the best people doing their best work,” she says. “If you discourage half the population [from doing science], then that part is simply not in your pool of who’s the best, so the best science doesn’t happen.”

Now cue the apologists. The most common explanation I hear for the disparity, over and over again, is that it’s an accurate reflection of ability: men do better at the higher ranks of science and math because they have better brains. And the most frequent rational for that is the greater male variability hypothesis: the bell curve of performance for women is better tuned to achieve a greater likelihood of median ability, while men are more erratic — they produce more damaged, faulty brains than do women, but at the same time, they produce more brilliant brains. The male population exhibits greater extremes.

This has never made any sense to me.

There are deleterious traits which men have at higher frequency than women: color blindness, for instance, or hemophilia. The explanation for those is that they’re X-linked, so males are hemizygous and when they carry a defective allele are less likely to carry a complementary healthy allele at that locus. There is also a known higher incidence for objectively measurable mental defects in males vs. females, diagnosable at birth. Again, the likely explanation is that hemizygosity for all those loci on the X chromosome makes males more vulnerable to developmental and genetic errors.

But how does this lead one to conclude that the greater variability should lead to greater beneficial variability? An expansion of the left tail of the distribution does not imply that there has to be an equivalent expansion of the right tail. For example, males also exhibit greater infant mortality in females. There is no compensatory reduction of male mortality in old age. The mortality curve shifts left for us men; it didn’t broaden to give those of us who made it to middle age an advantage over women in our cohort to reach greater old age.

And I note that there is never any specific explanation of a mechanism that would allow greater variability to promote greater intelligence in males. There is much flapping of hands over the greater male frequency of autism, reading disorders, juvenile delinquency, etc. (all true), and then a dangling “therefore…” leading to the conclusion that there must be compensatory intellectual benefits for men. It’s basically little more than an appeal to the belief that the universe must be fair, and must grant us guys as a population a benefit to make up for the bad deal we get as babies.

Guess what? The universe isn’t fair.

It is conceptually possible that the universe could have screwed over the females or the males of our species. We know, for instance, that human physiology carries specific mechanisms that increase male body size over that of women; you could imagine a species in which there was a similar coupling of hormones to brain growth, and in a science fiction world you could imagine a race with great gender disparities in intelligence. That doesn’t seem to be our world, though, and it also wouldn’t make sense to explain such a phenomenon by greater noisy variation. But you can’t explain that possibility away by saying it wouldn’t be fair for our biology to so discriminate against one sex: again, the universe isn’t fair.

You have to look at the data. And the data all seem to be saying that men and women who make it to the point of entering the academic world have roughly equal intellectual potential, and that the differences between them are shaped by sociocultural influences, not biology.

To analyze some of the theories put forth for the math gender gap, Kane and Mertz looked at internationally standardized scores for the 2003 and 2009 OECD Program for International Student Assessment math tests and the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. These two datasets include data from 86 countries with a 31-country overlap. If the greater male variability hypothesis, which posits that men have a greater range of intelligence than women, is true, then that variability would persist, consistently, across all 86 countries.

Instead, “For any given country, you quite reproducibly measure the same variance ratio,” Mertz says. But between countries the variance ratio changes. Persistent cultural factors, in other words, seem very important in setting variance ratios. “That was one thing that really shocked me,” Mertz says.

Some scholars have speculated that coeducational schools put women at a disadvantage in learning math. But Mertz and Kane’s research found that gender-segregated schools make no difference in improving math scores for girls or boys.

And while the test scores of children from the poorest countries were affected by poverty, all correlation with per capita GDP ends at $11,500. After that, gender equity — as measured by the World Economic Forum and Social Watch — is the only factor they studied that’s positively correlated with improved test scores for girls and for boys. “It’s very reproducible from exam to exam,” Mertz says. “If we were willing to speculate, one thing the U.S. might do to improve math performance would be to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Well, changing a few laws isn’t necessarily going to change people’s attitudes, so I’d disagree with her there. But as a reflection of deeper problems in how we perceive science and math and women and men, yes, she has a point.

Mertz cites a shirt famously removed from racks at the American retail clothing chain Forever 21 earlier this year as an example of the unhealthy attitude towards math in U.S. culture. The shirt said, simply, “Allergic to Algebra.”

“‘Allergic to Algebra’?” Mertz says. “This is what’s being sold in the U.S. in 2011? Whereas there’s a book in Japan [for teenage girls] called Math Girls. That book is essentially an introduction to topics you would see as a hardcore math major in college, and this is a bestseller in Japan. It’s in its 18th printing; they’ve had three sequels. Can you imagine that in the U.S.?”

There is no denying that the most important factor contributing to academic performance is cultural, not biological. Biology sets the limits, but culture determines what you do within those boundaries, and clearly, we have lots of room for improvement in intellectual accomplishment; most people aren’t bumping up against the physical limitations of what their brains can do. What we should be doing is looking at our people, and trying to do better. Less than 30% of the professoriate are women? That doesn’t say women aren’t as smart, it should be seen as missed potential, and we should be working harder to give every man and woman equal access to the chance to excel. 65% of men and 72% of women graduate from high school? Let’s figure out what’s holding the men back and fix it.

The great crime here is when people try to claim that these differences are hardwired and nothing can or should be done about them. Brains are plastic to a degree that makes minor potential differences between sexes and races negligible.

(Also on Sb)

Why do women menstruate?

Menstruation is a peculiar phenomenon that women go through on a roughly monthly cycle, and it’s not immediately obvious from an evolutionary standpoint why they do it. It’s wasteful — they are throwing away a substantial amount of blood and tissue. It seems hazardous; ancestrally, in a world full of predators and disease, leaving a blood trail or filling a delicate orifice with dying tissue seems like a bad idea. And as many women can tell you, it’s uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes debilitating. So why, evolution, why?

One assumption some people might make is that that is just the way mammalian reproduction works. This isn’t true! Most mammals do not menstruate — they do not cycle their uterine linings, but instead only build up a thickened endometrium if fertilization occurs, which looks much more efficient. Of the mammals, only most primates, a few bats, and elephant shrews are among the lucky animals that menstruate, and as you can see from the phylogeny, the scattered diversity of menstruating mammals implies that the trait was not present ancestrally — we primates acquired it relatively late.

Phylogeny showing the distribution of menstruation in placental mammals and the inferred states of ancestral lineages. Menstruating species/lineages are colored in pink, non- menstruating species/lineages in black. Species in which the character state is not known are not colored, and lineages of equivocal state are represented with black lines. Monodelphis represents the outgroup. Inference of ancestral states was performed in MacClade 4 by the parsimony method. Note that there is strong evidence for three independent originations of menstruation among placental mammals.

I suppose we could blame The Curse on The Fall, but then this phylogeny would suggest that Adam and Eve were part of a population of squirrel-like proto-primates living in the early Paleocene. That’s rather unbiblical, though, and what did the bats and elephant shrews do to deserve this?

There are many explanations floating around. One is that it’s a way to flush out nasty pathogens injected into the reproductive tract by ejaculating males — but that phenomenon is ubiquitous, so you have to wonder why only a few species bother. Another explanation is that it’s more efficient to get rid of the endometrium when not using it, than to maintain it indefinitely; but this is a false distinction, because other mammals don’t maintain the endometrium, they just build it up in response to fertilization. And finally, another reason is that humans have rather agressive embryos that implant deeply and intimately with the mother’s tissues, and menstruation “preconditions” the uterine lining to cope with the stress. There is, unfortunately, no evidence that menstruation provides any boost to the ‘toughness’ of the uterus at all.

A new paper by Emera, Romero, and Wagner suggests an interesting new idea. They turn the question around: menstruation isn’t the phenomenon to be explained, decidualization, the production of a thickened endometrial lining, is the key process.

All mammals prepare a specialized membrane for embryo implantation, the difference is that most mammals exhibit triggered decidualization, where the fertilized embryo itself instigates the thickening, while most primates have spontaneous decidualization (SD), which occurs even in the absence of a fertilized embryo. You can, for instance, induce menstruation in mice. By scratching the mouse endometrium, they will go through a pseudopregnancy and build up a thickened endometrial lining that will be shed when progesterone levels drop. So the reason mice don’t menstruate isn’t that they lack a mechanism for shedding the endometrial lining…it’s that they don’t build it up in the first place unless they’re actually going to use it.

So the question is, why do humans have spontaneous decidualization?

The answer that Emera suggests is entirely evolutionary, and involves maternal-fetal conflict. The mother and fetus have an adversarial relationship: mom’s best interest is to survive pregnancy to bear children again, and so her body tries to conserve resources for the long haul. The fetus, on the other hand, benefits from wresting as much from mom as it can, sometimes to the mother’s detriment. The fetus, for instance, manipulates the mother’s hormones to weaken the insulin response, so less sugar is taken up by mom’s cells, making more available for the fetus.

Within the mammals, there is variation in how deeply the fetus sinks its placental teeth into the uterus. Some species are epithelochorial; the connection is entirely superficial. Others are endotheliochorial, in which the placenta pierces the uterine epithelium. And others, the most invasive, are hemochorial, and actually breach maternal blood vessels. Humans are hemochorial. All of the mammalian species that menstruate are also hemochorial.

That’s a hint. Menstruation is a consequence of self-defense. Females build up that thickened uterine lining to protect and insulate themselves from the greedy embryo and its selfish placenta. In species with especially invasive embryos, it’s too late to wait for the moment of implantation — instead, they build up the wall pre-emptively, before and in case of fertilization. Then, if fertilization doesn’t occur, the universal process of responding to declining progesterone levels by sloughing off the lining occurs.

Bonus! Another process that goes on is that the lining of the uterus is also a sensor for fetal quality, detecting chromosomal abnormalities and allowing them to be spontaneously aborted early. There is some evidence for this: women vary in their degree of decidualization, and women with reduced decidualization have been found to become pregnant more often, but also exhibit pregnancy failure more often. So having a prepared uterus not only helps to fend off overly-aggressive fetuses, it allows mom a greater ability to be selective in which fetuses she carries to term.

The authors also have a proposed mechanism for how menstruation could have evolved, and it involves genetic assimilation. Genetic assimilation is a process which begins with an environmentally induced phenotype (in this case, decidualization in response to implantation), which is then strengthened by genetic mutations that stabilize the phenotype — phenotype first, followed by selection for the mutations that reinforce the phenotype. They make predictions from this hypothesis. In species that don’t undergo SD, embryo implantation triggers an elevation of cyclic AMP in the endometrium that causes growth of the lining. If genetic assimilation occurred, they predict that what happened in species with SD was the novel coupling of hormonal signaling to the extant activation process.

If either of these models were correct, we would expect an upregulation of cAMP- stimulating agents in response to pro- gesterone in menstruating species like humans, but not in non-menstruating species such as the mouse.

Results from experiments like those described above will elucidate the evolutionary pathway from induced to spontaneous decidualization, allowing us to answer long-unanswered questions about the evolutionary significance of menstruation. In addition, they will provide mechanistic insights that might be useful in the treatment of common reproductive disorders such as endometriosis, endometrial cancer, preeclampsia, and recurrent pregnancy loss. These disorders involve dysfunctional endometrial responses during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Thus, clarifying mechanisms of the normal endometrial response to maternal hormones, i.e. SD, will facilitate identification of genes with abnormal function in women with these disorders. An analysis of how SD came about in evolution can aid in identifying these critical molecular mechanisms.

Evolution, genetic assimilation, a prediction from an evolutionary hypothesis, and significant biomedical applications … that all sounds powerful to me.

Emera D, Romero R, Wagner G (2011) The evolution of menstruation: A new model for genetic assimilation: Explaining molecular origins of maternal responses to fetal invasiveness. Bioessays 34(1):26-35.

(Also on Sb)

P.S. The maternal-fetal conflict is also a conflict between males and females: it is in the man’s reproductive interests to have his genes propagated in any one pregnancy, while it is in the woman’s reproductive interests to bail out and try again if conditions aren’t optimal for any one pregnancy. This conflict is also played out in culture, as well as genetics — pro-choice is a pro-woman strategy, anti-abortion is a pro-man position. Sometimes, politics is a reflection of an evolutionary struggle, too.

Gals and show mares

This video has been going around — it’s a group of women talking about the importance of evolution to the biological sciences.

I confess to cringing in a few places — there’s too much ready equation of evolution with natural selection — but I certainly wouldn’t question the competence of these accomplished scientists, even if I might argue with them a bit.

But now the clowns at Uncommon Descent have discovered it and given their assessment.

It shows sixteen female academics or science writers, mostly young, whose enthusiasm for evolution is so overwrought that they turn themselves into propagandists.

Eager to show how well they have been trained, they are like show mares who trot around the paddock jumping over each gate in turn. All the while they give the camera a look that says: “Aren’t I good?”

And then the conclusion:

Here, we’d wondered who would be the next Lynn Margulis. Our scouts can now save time by crossing these gals off.

“Gals”? Really? And since when do creationist hacks get to cross “gals” off the rolls of worthy scientists?

That’s right there in the article. There is worse in the comments; I know the site isn’t entirely responsible for what commenters say, but this is from one widely known freakish creationist who agrees with the sentiment in the article, that these women won’t cut it as real scientists. (There are also others that disagree with this guy; no one seems to have noted the patronizing attitude of the article itself.)

There is however a liberal establishment with a agenda to promote women and this means over more deserving men. Affirmative action , openly/secret, is powerful in nOrth america.
They want women to be as smart as men in these perceived smarter things.
They think it should be at least 50/50.
However it ain’t and it never will.

(Also on Sb)

Live by advertising, die by advertising

A beer company, Molson, came up with a cunning plan. Their market is primarily male, so they bought ads in women’s magazines, not to broaden their market, but to set up a ploy to appeal to men.

Here’s the ad they placed in Cosmopolitan, a magazine read primarily by women.

Then they placed this ad in magazines like Playboy, read primarily by men.

If you can’t read it, here’s the ad copy.



As you read this, women across America are reading something very different: an advertisement (fig. 1) scientifically formulated to enhance their perception of men who drink Molson. The ad shown below, currently running in Cosmopolitan magazine, is a perfectly tuned combination of words and images designed by trained professionals. Women who are exposed to it experience a very positive feeling. A feeling which they will later project directly onto you. Triggering the process is as simple as ordering a Molson Canadian (fig. 2).

Extravagant dinners. Subtitled movies. Floral arrangements tied together with little pieces of hay. It gets old. And it gets expensive, depleting funds that could go to a new set of of 20-inch rims. But thanks to the miracle of Twin Advertising Technology, you can achieve success without putting in any time or effort. So drop the bouquet and pick up a Molson Canadian…

The ad is a success in one sense: it’s getting a lot of attention paid to Molson Canadian, and if you believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity, sure, it works.

But in another sense, it’s just closed off a chunk of the market for them. Assume they are correct, and that the ads can ‘program’ or at least bias women to have a specific attitude towards men. The effect relies entirely on women not seeing the men’s ad, which announces that the women are being manipulated. The fact that both are being juxtaposed all over the place means that now the only feeling women will project directly onto men drinking Molson’s beer is one of mistrust, a very negative feeling.

It was stupid. It was frat-boy stupid. It’s just too bad there are a heck of a lot of frat boys out there who will think it’s cool.

For those who argue that it’s just a funny ad: OF COURSE, this ad is manipulating men. It won’t, by intent, convince women to buy Molson beer. The ad campaign is targeted entirely at men, and it works because there are a lot of men who will laugh at an ad that makes out women to be stupid and easily swayed by sweaters and puppy dogs.

What you’re missing is that the response to the ad, these juxtapositions of the two commercials, shows that they are incredibly dismissive of women. Molson is playing up the idea that women are gullible and not very bright, and that men will get a kick out of a campaign that claims to manipulate women in the shallowest possible way.

And of course, if it works and sells beer, it shows that men are gullible and not very bright. Sexism hurts men and women, since here it is, used to trick people into drinking crappy beer.

Arkansas is promoting sexual ignorance

Arkansas schools are promoting abstinence-only sex education, through a program called “The Real Deal”. Like all abstinence-only programs, it’s foundation is in morality (their byline is “abstinence builds character”, which isn’t true, unless you mistake sanctimonious prudery for character) and lies — they announce statistics on their main page that claim that their abstinence programs reduce sexual activity by 30-40%, although they don’t bother to give us a source for those numbers, and all the other evidence available says that abstinence-only fails in comparison to comprehensive sex education.

On their site, they do cite a general source, WebMD. Let’s see what what WebMD has to say about abstinence-only sex ed, shall we?

Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have intercourse as those who did not. And, those who attended the classes reported having similar numbers of sexual partners to those who did not attend the classes. Mathematica also found out that the average age of having the first intercourse was the same for both groups – just a little less than 15 years old.

Four different abstinence-only programs were examined from around the USA. Students were about eleven when they participated in these programs in 1999. They were surveyed again in late 2005 and early 2006 when they were about 16.

They found that about half of the abstinence-only students had experienced intercourse and about half of the control group (having no program) had also. The 2,057 students were from Miami, Milwaukee, Powhatan, VA and Clarksdale, MS – with both urban and rural settings represented.

The site also touts True Love Waits, a page created by LifeWay Christian Resources, providing “Biblical solutions for life”, which is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention…which reveals the real motivation behind this organization. Has anyone ever seen a genuinely secular abstinence-only program? They all seem to be driven by a conservative social agenda that wants to police children’s thoughts and behaviors, and force them to conform to a failed and obsolete biblical model of culture. At best, they strain to strip the program of any appearance of faith-based thinking (does that remind anyone else of Intelligent Design creationism?), but they can’t hide the fundamentalist/absolutist foundation of their ideas.

They’re also ludicrously stupid. Look at what some Arkansas parents discovered that “The Real Deal” had their kids signing: a card promising to conform. My favorite part is the expiration date.

My wedding night was 31 years ago. Woo hoo! Alcohol, illegal drugs, pornography, and sex outside of marriage, here I come!

The only real deal for sex ed is comprehensive sex education, which also encourages restraint and good sense, but gives accurate information about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Anything less is encouraging ignorance, and we’ve got the example of a few thousand years of Christianity to show what a mess that makes of people’s lives.

Sometimes a bunny is just a bunny

I just despair.

There is sexism everywhere, and there are battles to be fought. I agree completely that there are strong strains of odious stereotypy running through our culture, and that we have to be vocal in opposing them. Much of it is unconscious and not intended maliciously, but it still perpetuates a problem. It’s good to oppose it.

But this morning a raging flame war exploded in a thread about a cute bunny cartoon. The bunny who is the voice of religion is wearing a dress; the practical bunny playing the role of science wears pants. Some people said it’s sexist; some people said it wasn’t. And then the war was launched.

This is the WRONG BATTLE.

Are you really fighting for the right for the cute bunny in the dress in a cartoon to not be the religious one? I have never seen feminism reduced to such appalling depths of triviality as I have in that thread. I am literally embarrassed to see a 300+-comment thread erupt over this inanity, and to see it begin in only the second comment to the thread…it’s ridiculous.

I tried tracing down the source of the image, with no luck; it appeared on reddit, on a couple of discussion forums, but no one seems to give credit to the artist. If we found more examples of this person’s work, and there were a pattern of always making the girl bunny the dumb bunny, then you’d have a case — the artist is consciously or unconsciously expressing a sexist trope. Without more information, you cannot possibly judge this cartoon as a reflection of an underlying bias against women. You cannot see a pattern in a sample of one. It’s also simply not true that portraying women as stupid is a staple of cartoons — from Fred Flintstone to Homer Simpson, the trend goes the other way. Yes, it’s still sexism — but if the comic in question had swapped the pants and dress on the bunnies, someone could object just as strongly. Given only two characters, one representing reason and one irrationality, there is actually no combination of sexes that isn’t going to offend someone, if you choose to see it only as a parable of sexual relations.

It isn’t. The two characters are having a conversation about science and religion, they are not using gendered language, and they’ve both been made childlike by portraying them as little cute bunnies. It’s fair to note that there are sexist biases in our culture, and that many of them belittle women, but that’s not what the comic was about; note it and move on.

Move on to change it where it matters. You want to say society diminishes women’s roles? I’ll agree with you. You want to complain about the unjustified authority given to men? I’ll back you 100%. You found some weasel who wants to deny that women are treated like second-rate citizens? I’ll join in the stomping. But show prolonged outrage at one twee cartoon that just happens to have a bunny in a dress playing the role of Simplicio, and you’ve lost me.

I’m going off to Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m not going to pay any attention to Pharyngula for a while. Go ahead and make me the target for your ire for a while, I expect this thread to turn into a screaming melee, too. I’ll be more impressed, though, if you take a moment to instead come up with real instances of oppression, discrimination, and intimidation of women (they’re not hard to find), rather than railing about the importance of toy bunny dresses.