Something for the Reading List

For nearly a decade, I have been researching and writing about women who dressed and lived as men and men who lived and dressed as women in the nineteenth-century American West. During that time, when people asked me about my work, my response was invariably met with a quizzical expression and then the inevitable question: “Were there really such people?” Newspapers document hundreds, in fact, and it is likely there were many more. Historians have been writing about cross-dressers for some time, and we know that such people have existed in all parts of the world and for about as long as we have recorded and remembered history.

Boag, Peter. “The Trouble with Cross-Dressers: Researching and Writing the History of Sexual and Gender Transgressiveness in the Nineteenth-Century American West.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 112, no. 3 (2011): 322–39. https://doi.org/10.5403/oregonhistq.112.3.0322.

Human beings have a really distorted view of history; we tend to project our experiences backward in time. Just recently introduced to the term “transgender?” Then transgender people must have only recently been invented, in the same way that bromances never existed before the term was added to the dictionary. Everyone is prone to this error, however, not just the bigots.

A central argument of my book is that many nineteenth-century western Americans who cross-dressed did so to express their transgender identity. Transgender is a term coined only during the last quarter of the twentieth century. It refers to people who identify with the gender (female or male) “opposite” of what society would typically assign to their bodies. I place “opposite” in quotation marks because the notion that female and male are somehow diametric to each other is a historical creation; scholars have shown, for example, that in the not-too-distant past, people in western civilization understood that there was only one sex and that male and female simply occupied different gradations on a single scale. That at one time the western world held to a one-sex or one-gender model, but later developed a two-sex or two-gender model, clearly shows that social conceptualization of gender, sex, and even sexuality changes over time. This reveals a problem that confronts historians: it is anachronistic to impose our present-day terms and concepts for and about gender and sexuality — such as transgender — onto the past.

In Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past, I therefore strove to avoid the term transgender as much as possible. It is central to my study, however, to show that people in the nineteenth century had their own concepts and expressions for gender fluidity. By the end of the nineteenth century, for example, sexologists (medical doctors and scientists who study sex) had created the terms “sex invert” and “sexual inversion” to refer to people whose sexual desires and gender presentations (that is, the way they walked and talked, the clothing they wanted to wear, and so forth) did not, according to social views, conform to what their physiological sex should “naturally” dictate.

I wish I’d known about this book earlier, it would have made a cool citation. Oh well, either way it’s long since hit the shelves and been patiently waiting for a spot on your wishlist.

I Thought We All Agreed On This One

The UN Population Fund puts it well:

Child marriage is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread, in part because of persistent poverty and gender inequality. In developing countries, one in every four girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15.

Child marriage threatens girls’ lives and health, and it limits their future prospects. Girls pressed into child marriage often become pregnant while still adolescents, increasing the risk of complications in pregnancy or childbirth. These complications are a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.

UNICEF is even more forceful:

Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system. Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence. Child marriage also affects boys, but to a lesser degree than girls.

These children are insufficiently developed to vote or drive under the law, yet they can freely consent to a possibly life-long legal partnership? Ridiculous. It’s not hard to find stories of girls who felt like slaves to their husbands, or had to endure years of abuse before they could legally divorce. And the excuses given to protect it defy belief at times.

Last year, 17-year-old Girl Scout Cassandra Levesque campaigned to change the New Hampshire law that allows girls as young as 13 to get married if their parents approve. “My local representative introduced a bill that raised the minimum age to 18. But a couple of male representatives persuaded the others to kill the bill and to prevent it from being discussed again for some years,” she says. “One of them said that a 17-year-old Girl Scout couldn’t have a say in these matters.”

“So they think she’s old enough for marriage, but not old enough to talk about it, says Reiss. “I think that reasoning is terrifying.”

My point exac-

… Wait. “New Hampshire?!”

In 2013, [Sherry] Johnson was working at a barbecue stand in Tallahassee when she told her story to a senator who was one of her regular customers. “She listened to me and decided to do something,” Johnson recalls. “She presented a bill to restrict child marriage in 2014, but it failed. That was because nobody understood the problem at the time. “People thought: this can’t happen in Florida. The minimum marriage age is 18; what’s the problem? But they didn’t know about the loopholes. Between 2001 and 2015, 16,000 children were married in Florida alone. A 40-year-old man can legally marry a five-year-old girl here.”

Child marriage is semi-legal in New Hampshire and Florida? That can’t be right.

In most US states, the minimum age for marriage is 18. However, in every state exceptions to this rule are possible, the most common being when parents approve and a judge gives their consent. In 25 states, there is no minimum marriage age when such an exception is made.

…. What the hell, USA? How could you allow over 200,000 children to get married between 2000 and 2015? How could your judges approve marriages before one party can even consent to sex?! Between this and your poor maternal health outcomes, your unsustainable military spending, your dysfunctional political system, and your growing reputation as a tax haven and money launderer, I have half a mind to invalidate your “developed country” card.

(Thanks to blf for pointing me to this outrage.)

The Gender Inclusivity of Diverse White Privilege Equity

Blame Shiv for this one; she posted about someone at Monsanto inviting Jordan Peterson to talk about GMOs, and it led me down an interesting rabbit hole. For one thing, the event already happened, and it was the farce you were expecting. This, however, caught my eye:

Corrupt universities—and Women’s Studies departments in particular, he says—are responsible for turning students into activists who will one day tear apart the fabric of society. “The world runs on ideas. And the ideas that are in the universities are the ideas that are going to be in the general public in five to ten years. And there’s no shielding yourself from it,” he said.

Peterson also shared a trick for figuring out whether or not a child’s school has been affected by the coming crisis: If a schoolteacher uses any of the five words listed on his display screen—”diversity,” “inclusivity,” “equity,” “white privilege,” or “gender”—then a child has been “exposed.”

What’s Peterson’s solution for all this? “The answer to the ills that our society still obviously suffers from,” he said, is that “people should adopt an ethos of responsibility rather than continually clamoring about their rights, which is something that we’ve been talking about for about four decades too long, as far as I can surmise.”

Four decades puts us back into the 1970’s, when women’s liberation groups were calling to be able to exercise their right to bodily autonomy, to be free from violence, to equal pay for equal work, to equal custody of kids. If Peterson is opposed to that then he’s more radical than most MRAs, who are generally fine with Second Wave feminism. I wonder if he’s a lost son of Phyllis Schlafly.

But more importantly, he appears to be warning us of a crisis coming in 5-10 years, one that invokes those five terms as holy writ. That’s …. well, let’s step through it.

[Read more…]

FEMINISM ISN’T SCIENCE!11!

Gawd, that line annoys me. I’m sure you’ve heard it or some variation of it: “feminism is a religion,” “feminism destroys science,” “feminism is opposed to science,” and so on. Yet if you take a dip in the social sciences literature, you realise there’s quite a bit of science behind feminist perspectives. While reading up on sexual assault and trauma, for instance, I came across this delightful passage in one paper:

In conjunction with the SES and similar measures, scholars have argued that feminist perspectives have had a profound impact on the sexual assault literature (Adams-Curtis & Forbes, 2004). For example, Brownmiller (1975) emphasized the role of patriarchy and helped shift attention further away from internal pathology to systemic and social issues. Advancements such as the SES and the development of Burt’s (1980) instruments to assess rape-supportive beliefs added weight to feminist perspectives of sexual assault by demonstrating that many men did not label specific sexual encounters against a woman’s will as rape, and even held favorable attitudes toward rape (e.g., Burt, 1980; Malamuth, 1981). Feminist perspectives emphasizing systemic devaluation of women and gender inequality as major contributors to college men’s sexual assault perpetration continue to be widely embraced in the literature.

Feminist perspectives also appear to be a driving force in different approaches to studying men and masculinities in relation to sexual assault perpetration. For instance, our narrative review identified several distinct areas of research, such as general descriptive studies of college sexual assault perpetration rates (e.g., Koss et al., 1987), characteristics of sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Krebs et al., 2007), and key features of sexual assault offenders (e.g., Abbey & McAuslan, 2004). Consistent with previous systematic reviews (e.g., Tharp et al., 2013), findings across each of these domains indicate that, although there are several avenues that may lead a man toward sexual assault perpetration, certain factors are associated with increased risk, such as living in a fraternity (e.g., Murnen & Kohlman, 2007), viewing violent pornography (e.g., Carr & VanDeusen, 2004), using alcohol on dates or believing alcohol increases the chances for sexual access (Abbey, 2011), endorsing violence toward women or accepting rape myths (e.g., Murnen, Wright, & Kaluzny, 2002), engaging in past sexual assault perpetration (e.g., Loh, Gidycz, Lobo, & Luthra, 2005), feeling entitled to sex (e.g., Widman & McNulty, 2010), associating with men who endorse rape-supportive ideologies (Abbey, McAuslan, Zawacki, Clinton, & Buck, 2001; Swartout, 2013), and perceiving that peers endorse rape myths (e.g., Swartout, 2013). In general, investigators emphasized men’s socialization (i.e., masculinities) as a driving force behind each of these risk factors.

McDermott, Ryon C., et al. “College male sexual assault of women and the psychology of men: Past, present, and future directions for research.” Psychology of Men & Masculinity16.4 (2015): 355-366.

That last paragraph is greatly amusing, to me. MRAs love to bring up all the problems men face, but don’t seem to realise that feminists were the first to recognise and study those problems, using frameworks they’d created. Many don’t realise how big a debt they owe. (#notallmen!)

Stephanie Zvan on Recovered Memories

I’ve been hoping for a good second opinion on this topic, and Zvan easily delivers. She has some training in psychology (unlike me), has been dealing with this topic for longer than I have, and by waiting longer to weigh in she’s had more time to craft her arguments. I place high weight on her words, so if you liked what I had to say be sure to read her take as well.

When we look more generally at how memory works, it quickly becomes apparent that focusing exclusively on the recovery of false memories produces lessons that aren’t generally applicable for evaluating memories of traumatic events. We need to continue to be on our guard for the circumstances that produce induced memories, and we have skeptics to thank for very important work on that topic.

However, it’s equally important that we, as skeptics, don’t fall into thinking every memory that people haven’t been shouting from the rooftops from the moment of trauma is induced. Recovered false memories are unusual events that happen under unusual circumstances. Abuse is a common occurrence, typically subject to normal rules of memory.

She also takes a slightly different path than I did. As weird as it may sound, I didn’t cover recovered memories very much in an argument supposedly centred around them; between the science on trauma, the obvious bias of Pendergrast and Crews, the evidence for bias from Loftus, the signs of anomaly hunting, and those court transcripts, I didn’t need to. I could blindly accept their assumptions of how those memories worked, and still have a credible counter-argument. Zvan’s greater familiarity with psychology allows her to take on that angle directly, and it adds much to the conversation. A taste:

Not everyone is susceptible to [false recovered memories]. Brewin and Andrews, writing for The British Psychological Society, characterize the situation thus: “Rather than childhood memories being easy to implant, therefore, a more reasonable conclusion is that they can be implanted in a minority of people given sufficient effort.” Estimates in the studies they look at (including Elizabeth Loftus’s work) show an effect in, on average, 15% of study participants, though they caution actual belief in those memories may be lower.

But enough from me, go read her.

Intriguing Theory on the Pay Gap

I’ve heard a number of solid hypotheses to explain the gendered pay gap: unpaid care work,[1][2] the motherhood penalty,[3] or just straight-up discrimination.[4] This one is new to me, though.

Sexual harassment is well documented across many fields but women who work in men-dominated occupations and industries experience higher rates (Fitzgerald et al. 1997; Gruber 1998; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). The likelihood of harassment also increases with exposure to a wider range of employees (Chamberlain et al. 2008; De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and is higher among single women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999; Rosenberg, Perlstadt, and Phillips 1993), highly educated women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and women in positions of authority (Chamberlain et al. 2008; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). Because sexual harassment forces some women out of jobs, it likely influences their career attainment (Blackstone, Uggen, and McLaughlin 2009; Lopez, Hodson, and Roscigno 2009). Numerous studies link voluntary and involuntary career interruptions to significant earnings losses (Brand 2015; Couch and Placzek 2010; Theunissen et al. 2011).[5]

I hope you see where they’re going with this. Sexual harassment causes women to switch jobs or leave the workforce, but pay is usually linked to how long you’ve stayed in your job. Professions where women dominate have less of a sexual harassment problem, but are also viewed as “feminized” and thus worth less.[6] Even within a profession approaching gender parity, like lawyers in the UK, women can be marginalized.

However, optimistic prognoses of gender emancipation are somewhat challenged when considering that the mass entry of women to this profession has been characterized by patterns of vertical stratification and horizontal segmentation (Hagan and Kay, 1995; Sommerlad, 2002; Stake et al., 2007). Women solicitors are more likely to be in subordinate salaried positions, to work part–time, to practise in less prestigious and remunerative firms and legal specialisms and, more generally, to attract lesser terms and conditions. There is a clear pattern of vertical stratification whereby a growing cohort of predominantly female subordinates are confined to ‘a (frequently transient) proletarian role’ (Sommerlad, 2002: 217) and deployed to support the earnings and privileges of a relatively prosperous and autonomous elite of predominately male partners. Women, despite representing a growing majority of salaried solicitors (over 55 per cent of associate and assistant solicitors) and new entries to the profession, still constitute less than a quarter (23.2 per cent) of partners and the average female solicitor enjoys markedly less than half the chances of a male colleague to progress to partnership (17.6 per cent of women solicitors are partners against 39.5 per cent of their male peers) (SRU, 2006c).[7]

So if women switch to a career where they’re less likely to face harassment, or even start off there, they’re paid less than men for the same amount of work. It’s a brilliant theory, and that paper does find evidence in support of it.

In bivariate analyses, women who experienced unwanted touching or multiple harassing behaviors in 2003 reported significantly greater financial stress in 2005 (t = –2.664, p ≤ .01). Some of this strain may be due to career disruption, as harassment targets were especially likely to change jobs. As shown in Figure 1, 79 percent of targets as compared to 54 percent of other working women started a new primary job in either 2004 or 2005 (χ2 = 9.53, p ≤ .01). […]
In Model 2 of Table 2, we test whether the increased financial stress reported by harassment targets can be attributed to their greater likelihood of changing jobs. Analyzing consecutive waves of YDS data, we can establish clear temporal order between sexual harassment (2003), job change (2004–2005), and financial stress (2005). In addition to having a strong direct effect on financial stress (β = .582, p ≤ .01), job change reduces the effect of harassment below standard significance levels. Following Baron and Kenny (1986), we calculate that 35 percent of the total effect of sexual harassment on financial stress is mediated through job change (…). Targets of sexual harassment were 6.5 times as likely as nontargets to change jobs in 2004–2005, net of the other variables in our model (…).[5]

They caution that their data source is from a single cohort, thus it may not generalize, but I think the theoretical axioms are strong enough that it probably will. A similar effect could be happening with non-binary and transgender/transsexual people, too.

It’s also worth underlining that it’s foolish to think the gendered pay gap has one and only one cause; an economy with millions or even billions of actors is a highly complex system, so it’s unlikely to have simple explanations for patterns on that scale. A combination of the above factors is likely driving the gendered pay gap, and we’ll need complex solutions to solve it.


[1] Ferrant, Gaëlle, Luca Maria Pesando, and Keiko Nowacka. Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Gender Gaps in Labour Outcomes. OECD Development Centre Issues Paper, 2014.

[2] Budlender, Debbie. The Statistical Evidence on Care and Non-Care Work across Six Countries. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Geneva, 2008.

[3] Benard, Stephen, and Shelley J. Correll. “Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty.” Gender & Society 24, no. 5 (2010): 616–646.

[4] Murphy, Emily, and Daniel Oesch. “The Feminization of Occupations and Change in Wages: A Panel Analysis of Britain, Germany and Switzerland,” 2015.

[5] McLaughlin, Heather, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women.” Gender & Society 31, no. 3 (2017): 333–358.

[6] England, Paula, Michelle Budig, and Nancy Folbre. “Wages of Virtue: The Relative Pay of Care Work,” 2001.

[7] Sharon Bolton, and Daniel Muzio. “The Paradoxical Processes of Feminization in the Professions: The Case of Established, Aspiring and Semi-Professions.” Work, Employment and Society 22, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 281–99. https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017008089105.