Faux Calls for Debate

Much has been written about that (sadly too common) “manifesto” from a Google employee. I’d chip in with a dissection of their claims about the biological capabilities of women, but I’ve already done so, multiple times. I also haven’t seen anyone bring up that women were essential to early computation, but again I’ve touched on that angle already.

So instead, I’ll settle for boosting one of the more interesting takes. Take it away, Dr. NerdLove.

This isn’t really about the memo itself but more in how people treat others, esp. other people who they fundamentally oppose.

First: the positioning oneself as being rational. In cases like this? It’s enshrining “This doesn’t affect me” as “value-neutral”.

It’s easy to say “This is is a topic that should be debated” when it’s not something that will touch you at all.

The superiority of Genesis vs Super Nintendo is a debate. EMACS vs [Vim] is a debate. Virtue of flat currency vs. fiat currency: debate.

“Your gender means that you’re biologically incapable of doing this job and should never have been hired” isn’t a fucking debate.

(Especially when it’s someone who doesn’t understand biology, gender roles, etc. saying this)

It’s easy for someone who has no skin in the game to say it should be “debated” because the outcome doesn’t affect them at *all*.

Let us also be real: this person doesn’t actually mean “debate”. Just as when eggs demand debate on Twitter, they don’t mean debate.

They aren’t asking for a structured discussion about whether someone has the biological capability to write code. They want to gish-gallop.

This isn’t going to be about changing minds or opinions. This is about playing to an audience and making enough noise to shut the others up.

This is why it’s so often framed as “if you won’t discuss this with me, your ideas are weak”. It’s about endurance and frustration.

In this case “whomever quits participating first” is framed as the “loser”. Not “there’s no point b/c this isn’t in good faith”.

These “debates” inevitably turn into goal-post shifts and fire-hose torrents of bullshit (gish-galloping) until the other person leaves.

Dr. NerdLove has more detail, but you get the basic gist: that manifesto isn’t calling for debate, any more than the creationists who make the same maneuver. This is about legitimizing a viewpoint that is illegit on its face, and hounding you until you pack up and leave. Don’t fall for it.

Sex Around the World

Oh, Jerry Coyne. I’m amused with his defense of a sex binary

In Drosophila and humans, the two species with which I’m most familiar, the behavior, appearance, and primary and secondary sex characteristics are determined almost completely by whether the chromosomal constitution is male (XY) or female (XX).

… since, like most such “scientific” defenses, he immediately turns around and shoots it in the foot.

Yes, there are a few exceptions, like AIS, but the various forms of that syndrome occur between 1 in every 20,000 to 1 in only 130,000 births.  Is that “too many examples” to all0w us to say that biological sex is not connected with chromosomes? If you look at all cases of intersexuality that occur in people with XX or XY chromosomes (we’re not counting XOs or XXYs or other cases of abnormal chromosomal number), the frequency of exceptions is far less than 1%. That means that, in humans as in flies, there is almost a complete correlation between primary/secondary sex characteristics and chromosome constitution.

Ah yes, chromosomes determine human sex except in the 0.05% to 1.7% of cases where they don’t. Brilliant logic, that.

But it’s easy to get trapped by your filter bubble. The internet is a lot bigger than North America, after all, and other places have their own view of sex. Take Sweden, for instance, where it’s  government policy to avoid teaching gender stereotypes. One kindergarten made headlines not too long ago by declaring itself “gender-neutral.” As the founder put it,

00:10:10,909 –> 00:11:03,329
I’m going to show you what we call the “whole life spectra.” We tend to divide this life spectra into two pieces, one for boys and one for girls. More often pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. When we call a boy “cool” and “strong,” and to girls we more often say that they should be “helpful,” “nice,” “cute,” we have different expectations [for how they behave]. We take away this border, and we don’t separate into “boyish” and “girlish,”  we give the whole life spectra to everyone. So we are not limiting, we are just adding. We are not changing the children, we are changing our own thoughts.

That video is worth watching, as it follows around two gender non-conforming kids with an intersex “ma-pa.” The few bigots on screen seem right out of 1984, claiming that expanding or eliminating gender stereotypes somehow constrains kids in some mysterious fashion. Every kid, in contrast, is either at ease with gender role fluidity or made uncomfortable when asked to label their gender.

But even Sweden appears behind the curve when contrasted with the Khawaja Sira of South Asia.

For centuries, South Asia has had its own Khawaja Sira or third gender culture. The community, identifying as neither male nor female, are believed by many to be “God’s chosen people,” with special powers to bless and curse anyone they choose. The acceptance of Khawaja Sira people in Pakistan has been held up internationally as a symbol of tolerance, established long before Europe and America had even the slightest semblance of a transgender rights movement.

But the acceptance of people defining their own gender in Pakistan is much more complicated. The term transgender refers to someone whose gender identify differs from their birth sex. This notion is yet to take root in Pakistan and the transgender rights movement is only beginning to assert itself formally. Now, some third gender people in Pakistan say the modern transgender identity is threatening their ancient third gender culture.

The problem is that the Khawaja Sira are allowed to exist within South Asian culture because they renounce both male and female gender roles, thus don’t challenge either. Trans* people, on the other hand, reject the role assigned to the Khawaja Sira and invoke the male or female one instead. This upsets every gender’s apple cart. It doesn’t help either that the Khawaja Sira in Pakistan have recently fallen onto hard times, facing increasing bigotry and hate; the increasing number of trans* people feels like an invasion of “Western” ideals, at a time when their community is ill-equipped to cope.

But do you remember hearing about Oyasiqur Rhaman, the atheist blogger murdered in Bangladesh? His murderers were outed by a courageous “hijra,” which is similar in meaning to “Khawaja Sira” but not quite the same.

Transgender people occupy an unusual social stratum in South Asia, where conservative societies still consider same-sex intercourse to be a crime but also allow the existence of a third gender — a well-established category that dates back to the age of the “Kama Sutra.” Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have all legally recognized the existence of a third gender, including on passports and other official documents.

In India, in fact, “kinnar” freely mixes gender identity with non-binary sex. Compare and contrast this with Mexico’s “muxes,” who are called a third gender but in practice act more like trans* women, and Balkan sworn virgins who are more like trans* men. There’s no intersex component to the latter two, so lumping everybody under the banner of “third gender” or “transgender” is quite misleading.

Our binary view of sex and gender seem terribly archaic (which is ironic, as it may be a recent invention). It should not be controversial in North America to have a non-conforming parent or be raised in a genderless environment, yet it is. We could learn a thing or two from the rest of the world, especially when it comes to sex.

Transgender People, Sexuality, and Attraction

Shiv’s knocked it out of the park again. Her post is a long and thorough discussion of Laci Green‘s batshittery, and defies easy summation. Maybe this paragraph is representative of the whole?

Remember the earlier contrast between theory and practice when it comes to trans women’s bodies? Jones also does sex work. The primary audience for her porn is straight men. Jones has spent the past few weeks being inundated with abuse over the idea of anyone finding her attractive all the while people are shelling out cash for her sexualized pics and clips. Performative declarations about how unfuckable I am brush up against my reality, where I spend my weekends doing naked things that are illegal in many countries across the world (ifyouknowwhatimean). It’s two different conversations happening at the same time, and one of them looks–if you’ll pardon my French–fucking silly. “Ur ugly” is the discourse of children and playgrounds.

Hmmm, no. These two?

Hint number one that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: Green can’t decide who the subjects are, unless she’s suddenly started believing that (cis) lesbians and (cis) straight men are the same. Badly misapprehending Jones’ tweet would have at least supported her conclusion that trans women are trying to coerce straight men, but instead she comes out of left field by making it about (cis) lesbians. That she saw no contradiction in these premises suggests to me she is starting with her conclusion and working her way backwards.

Hint number two that we’re dealing with an expression of prejudice: Green uses “lesbian” as mutually exclusive with “trans YouTuber.” Neither cis lesbians that can be attracted to trans women, nor trans lesbians, exist. Apparently.

Nope, that’s worse. Tell you what, just read the thing. It’ll make you reflect on your views of attraction and sexuality, most likely, and that alone is worth it.

Change Of Plans

I’ve had a draft cooking for a while over Laci Green’s view of trans* people. I don’t claim to know why she’s hanging out with MRAs or treating TERFs as if they were feminists, but if she’s going to sit down and attempt to make logical arguments the least I could do is return the favor.

But then this happened. [Read more…]

A Quick Note on So-Called “Bathroom Bills”

[CONTENT WARNING: TERFs]

Gendered restrooms are a relatively recent phenomenon. Before then restrooms were unisex, but not in the way you’re thinking.

… public facilities in Western nations were male-only until the Victorian era, which meant women had to improvise. If they had to be out and about longer than they could hold their bladders, women in the Victorian era would urinate over a gutter (long Victorian skirts allowed for some privacy). Some would even carry a small personal device called a urinette that they could use discretely under their skirts and then pour out, [Sheila] Cavanagh said. […]

This lack of female facilities reflected a notable attitude about women: that they should stay home. This “urinary leash” remains a problem in some developing nations, said Harvey Molotch, a sociologist at New York University and co-editor of “Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing” (New York University Press, 2010). Women in India today, for example, often have to avoid eating or drinking too much if they have to be out in public, because there is no place for them to go, Molotch told Live Science.

But with the rise of the Industrial Revolution and changing attitudes towards gender, forcing women back into the home wasn’t tenable. Instead, during the last quarter of the 19th century a new philosophy became dominant.

Scientific discoveries at the time showed that working women were “unable to [physically] withstand strains, fatigues, and privations as well as [men],” so sex-separated restrooms provided “a protective haven . . . where a woman could seek comfort and rest when her weak body gave out on the job.” Maintaining separate facilities that were “properly screened” also provided more privacy to both men and women with regard to their bodies and bodily functions, an obsession derived from Victorian society. By providing a separate space for the special needs of women and protecting the privacy of all workers, sex-separated bathrooms upheld “[l]ate nineteenth century concerns about germs and sanitation . . . [and] early nineteenth century ideological concerns of pure womanhood.”

Governments began mandating sex-segregated washrooms in the workplace, starting with Massachusetts in 1887. As attitudes towards women changed, however, the reasons for segregation shifted.

Though modern thinking has certainly progressed and women are not treated as inherently inferior as they once were, the current argument that sex-separated restrooms provide greater safety for women harkens back to the nineteenth century justifications for separate restroom facilities. For example, literature opposing transgender bathroom access focuses heavily on protecting the safety, privacy, and dignity of women and girls, yet rarely mentions any issues men might have with sharing a restroom with a female-to-male transsexual. Even some transsexual women wish to maintain the “safe haven in a male dominated world” of a women’s restroom “where women can have their own space without needing to worry what a man might do (in front of them, to them, or to their daughters and young sons.)” At the very least, these opinions expose an underlying belief that women and girls are more fragile than men, have a deeper need of privacy than men, and are more likely than men to be afraid or offended by the notion of sharing a restroom with a male-born transgender woman.

Faced with this information, you’d think a feminist would tread very carefully. Yes, there’s a gender imbalance in who commits sexual assault, but the historic use of washrooms to control women should give pause about banning someone else from using them.

TERFs don’t pause, they’re fully in favour of “bathroom bills.” Even when a butch lesbian gives a convincing plea against this legislation, they still find a way to justify support.

Those of us who believe that men belong in the men’s washroom come in two major types—conservatives and feminists—but this author doesn’t distinguish between the two groups. Conservatives understand that certain men will use any excuse to prey on women and children and they want to protect them. They are also homophobic and do not accept ordinary lesbians and gays, and they promote traditional gender roles and marriage. Feminists know that men with sexual fetishes like to declare that they have a gender identity and therefore have a right to expose themselves in women’s locker rooms. We differ completely from conservatives because we are against gender roles and sex stereotypes. We want the entire range of women in all our diversity to feel comfortable in women’s spaces, which will be accomplished by eliminating sexism and homophobia. […]

She’s implying here that the reason for sex-segregated facilities is the misguided notion that women need protection from men, and that people only believe that women need protection because of gender roles/stereotypes about women. But in the real world, women do need protection from men, because men abuse women on a regular basis through assault, rape, harassment, stalking, flashing, taking photos without consent, and the list goes on. Unfortunately this writer didn’t check the stats on violence against women before writing her article.

This is evidence that TERFs are not truly feminists: they advocate for the elimination of sex stereotypes, yet push a stereotyped view of sex. They are ignorant of feminist history, and advocate for sexist policies that date back to the Victorian era. The aforementioned division between “conservatives” and “feminists” is rich, especially since the two love to team up to oppose the rights of trans* people.

The real issue behind “bathroom bills” is control over who gets to enjoy the public sphere, security is secondary at best.

Objectively Biased

Enjoyed that inspirational break? Good, because it’s back to Depresso Land.

Astronomy and planetary science, as the fields concerned with celestial objects and processes, help shift human attention outward. Gazing at the stars is an accessible introduction to science, one that gets many young children dreaming of being an astronaut, astronomer, or planetary scientist one day. […]

At the same time, the accessibility and inclusive atmosphere within science, including astronomy and planetary science, has been called into question. Science syllabi use gendered language that not only can show women as incompetent but also normalizes masculine behaviors, belief systems, and priorities [Bejerano and Bartosh, 2015]. Several studies of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields have found implicit bias, or the bias in judgment resulting from implicit attitudes that operates below cognitive awareness, related to both gender and race limits opportunities in mentorship [Milkman et al., 2015], hiring [Moss-Racusin et al., 2012], and opportunities in the classroom [Eddy et al., 2014, 2015; Grunspan et al., 2016], as well as workplace conflict [Williams et al., 2016] and experiences that map onto stereotypes of scientists’ racial-ethnic identification [Williams et al., 2014, 2016]. Women of color faculty in STEM are also more likely to experience the dominant culture of their disciplines as outsiders, with their views validated less than the dominant group [Rios and Stewart, 2015]. Further, the number of women of color science faculty has recently decreased, even while the number of white women science faculty has increased [Armstrong and Jovanovic, 2015]. These marginalities are further compounded by power differentials, as women of color are more likely to be junior in rank compared to those with majority identities [National Science Foundation (NSF), 2015].[1]

That much was known; left without examination, though was the extent that this sexism hits on a personal level. Now we have a study that covers that, and whoamygawd:

Women were more likely than men to observe remarks that they interpreted as racist, sexist, that one was not feminine or masculine enough, or disparaging someone’s physical abilities or mental abilities (Table 3, see supporting information Table S1 for all analyses). Women were also significantly more likely than men to report that they experienced both verbal and physical harassment because of their gender. When asked if they had ever felt physically unsafe in their current position, more women than men reported that they felt unsafe as a result of their gender (30% versus 2%, p < 0.001). Finally, women were also more likely than men to report skipping at least one class, meeting, fieldwork, or other professional event per month because they felt unsafe (13% versus 3%, p = 0.01). […]

Respondents of color were significantly more likely than white respondents to observe remarks that were racist (from peers and others, p = 0.0001 and 0.023) or homophobic (from supervisors, p < 0.0001, Table 4, see supporting information Table S2 for all analyses). Respondents of color were also significantly more likely than white respondents to report that they experienced both verbal and physical harassment because of their race. When asked if they had ever felt physically unsafe in their current position, more respondents of color reported they felt unsafe as a result of their race (24% versus 1%, p < 0.001). Respondents of color and white respondents reported similar frequencies of skipped classes, meetings, fieldwork, or other professional events per month because they felt unsafe (15% versus 9%, p = 0.08).[1]

There’s more bad news, and thankfully the paper is open-access so you can wallow in it yourself. Suffice to say, not only does this establish sexism and racism is pervasive within astronomy, there’s strong reason to suspect its killing careers.

An even stronger portrait emerges if we include the LGBTQA+ community. This relates to physics, rather than astronomy, but

About 15% of LGBT men, 25% of LGBT women, 30% of gender-nonconforming individuals characterized the overall climate of their department or division as “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable.” Also, 30% of trans individual regardless of gender identity characterized the overall climate of their department or division as “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable.” […]

Over 40% of climate survey respondents agreed with the statement, “Employees are expected to not act too gay,” and about 45% disagreed with the statement, “Coworkers are as likely to ask nice, interested questions about same-sex relationships as they are about heterosexual relationships.” […]

More than 20% of climate survey respondents reported experiencing exclusionary behavior in the past year, while about 40% reported observing exclusionary behavior due to gender, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. These numbers were significantly higher (49% and 60% respectively) for trans respondents. […]

Over one-third of climate survey respondents considered leaving their workplace or school in the past year.[2]

That last line is important; we’re excluding people from working in the sciences for reasons that have nothing to do with competence. This has to change, and as always awareness of the problem is the first step.

[1] Clancy, Kathryn B. H., Katharine M. N. Lee, Erica M. Rodgers, and Christina Richey. “Double Jeopardy in Astronomy and Planetary Science: Women of Color Face Greater Risks of Gendered and Racial Harassment.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, n.d., 2017JE005256. doi:10.1002/2017JE005256.

[2] Atherton, T. J., R. S. Barthelemy, W. Deconinck, M. L. Falk, S. Garmon, E. Long, M. Plisch, E. H. Simmons, and K. Reeves. “LGBT Climate in Physics: Building an Inclusive Community.” American Physical Society, College Park, MD, 2016.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been a negative Nelly lately, haven’t I? How hate feeds into itself, why Boghossian is wrong, OMG TRUMP… I think it’s time for something more uplifting. Ever since including this link on one of the Boghossian articles, I’ve wanted to promote it to a full post. It’s Michael Kimmel talking about gender equality, and how it benefits men as well as everyone else.

Gender equality is good for countries. It turns out, according to most studies, that those countries that are the most gender equal are also the countries that score highest on the happiness scale. And that’s not just because they’re all in Europe. Even within Europe, those countries that are more gender equal also have the highest levels of happiness.

It is also good for companies. Research by Catalyst and others has shown conclusively that the more gender-equal companies are, the better it is for workers, the happier their labor force is. They have lower job turnover. They have lower levels of attrition. They have an easier time recruiting. They have higher rates of retention, higher job satisfaction, higher rates of productivity. So the question I’m often asked in companies is, “Boy, this gender equality thing, that’s really going to be expensive, huh?” And I say, “Oh no, in fact, what you have to start calculating is how much gender inequality is already costing you. It is extremely expensive.” So it is good for business.

When you know where to look, there’s actually quite a few videos in this genre. For instance, here’s Tony Porter (warning, he gets explicit about sexual assault)…

… we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men. We see that as an equation that equals violence against women. We as men, good men, the large majority of men, we operate on the foundation of this whole collective socialization. We kind of see ourselves separate, but we’re very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property and objectification is the foundation and the violence can’t happen without it. So we’re very much a part of the solution as well as the problem.

And Jackson Katz (double warning, he focuses on sexual assault)…

… there’s an awful lot of men who care deeply about these issues. I know this, I work with men, and I’ve been working with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of men for many decades now. It’s scary, when you think about it, how many years. But there’s so many men who care deeply about these issues, but caring deeply is not enough. We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.

By the way, we owe it to women. There’s no question about it. But we also owe it to our sons. We also owe it to young men who are growing up all over the world in situations where they didn’t make the choice to be a man in a culture that tells them that manhood is a certain way. They didn’t make the choice. We that have a choice, have an opportunity and a responsibility to them as well.

But my favorite has to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man.” If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, you have to pretend that you’re not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.

But what if we question the premise itself? Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man? What if we decide to simply dispose of that word, and I don’t think there’s an English word I dislike more than “emasculation.” A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact, it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who would be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in.

It’s easy to feel ground down by the endless parade of sexist bullshit in the news. Outrage and train wrecks tend to steal our gaze, but if you keep mindful and dig a little, you’ll find no shortage of people pushing back. Take inspiration from them, and if the time is right, join them.