Dispatches From Enlightenment Now: Sweatshop Feminism

Steven Pinker loves hiding behind other people’s opinions. Remember the bit on voluntary chemical castration in The Blank Slate? Pinker is careful not to say that he’d like to castrate sex offenders explicitly, but by championing the argument and chastising others for not taking it seriously he’s able to promote the idea yet have someone else to blame.

Enlightenment Now is no different; at one point, Steven Pinker brings forward an argument that 19th century sweatshops were empowering for women.

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NOW You Can Celebrate

I’ve seen a lot of people jumping for joy about Ireland’s referendum, such as PZ Myers and Marcus Ranum. Problem is, the initial results were based on exit polling data, and they’re not always reliable. The people most likely to respond are the people most passionate about a subject, for instance. They also miss out on early voters, who don’t necessarily visit the polling booth, and voters that show up late. Nate Silver cribbed some excellent discussion of exit polls from Mark Bluemthnal, and while that info dates from 2008 and 2004, respectively, exit polls are routinely argued over well after the election itself. Hence why I sat on my hands.

The Eighth Amendment, which grants an equal right to life to the mother and unborn, will be replaced. The declaration was made at at Dublin Castle at 18:13 local time. The only constituency to vote against repealing the Eight amendment was Donegal, with 51.9% voting against the change. […]

Reacting to the result, the taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar, who campaigned in favour of liberalisation, said it was “a historic day for Ireland,” and that a “quiet revolution” had taken place. Mr Varadkar told crowds at Dublin Castle the result showed the Irish public “trust and respect women to make their own decision and choices.” He added: “It’s also a day when we say no more. No more to doctors telling their patients there’s nothing can be done for them in their own country, no more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.” […]

Mr Varadkar said he understood that those who had voted against repeal would be unhappy. He said he had a message for them: “I know today is not welcome and you may feel this country has taken the wrong turn, that this country is not one you no longer recognise. “I want to reassure you that Ireland today is the same as it was last week, but more tolerant, open and respectful.”

OK, NOW it’s time to raise my hands. I’m a bit puzzled why declaring mothers and fetuses to have equal rights was considered an argument against abortion, given that we live in a universe where the Violinist argument exists, but no matter: this is a solid victory for human health, and a boon for the impoverished and/or unlucky.

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.

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