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.

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.

Bookmark This One

Not this one, mind, but this one from Shiv.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the latest candy-glossed hate piece to make waves in feminist discourse: “I am not a ‘cis’ Woman, I am a Woman and that Matters.

Hands down, it’s the best counter-argument to the “E” in TERF that I’ve read.

I mean, hey, it’s taken a good ~2,400 words but now we can answer the question, “why is it wrong for cis women to have some spaces just for them to feel safe in a world where they don’t?”

It’s not wrong to want safety. However, the motivations for this trans-free “women only” space…

  1. Perpetrate rape culture by overstating stranger danger;
  2. Perpetrate rape culture by obscuring the actual tactics of serial predators;
  3. Assumes trans women are as likely to be violent as cis men, which is factually incorrect;
  4. Assumes violence is an essential property of certain persons, which is also factually incorrect–not to mention the rhetorical flourish liberally employed by white supremacists;

…all of which are complaints which have nothing to do with “trying to take away cis women’s safety.”

And all of those prior 2,400 words are well-cited and argued. I do two minor nitpicks, but the first only strengthens the argument. The second:

Please note, I have not once accused Broustra of being transphobic in this piece, nor will I.

I’ll go two steps farther. Broustra denies gender identity, via calling for the explicit exclusion of trans* women in “women-only” spaces; she shows a familiarity with TERF culture, through her Xeroxing of their ideas and arguments; and as a bonus, she is actively working to exclude trans* women, because she is campaigning for her point of view in a public forum. In my books, that makes her a TERF.

That first? I’ll post it over on Shiv’s piece as a comment, when I get a chance. So go read and bookmark her post!

Quotas are Awesome

I’ve always been a fan of gender quotas. Think about it: sexism is largely unconscious and subtle, which means it has a disproportionate impact on subtle or indirect means of correcting gender imbalances. Blunt methods are more likely to succeed, and are more honest. If we truly think the genders are equal, why not bake that into our policies? Just be sure to incorporate non-binary people, too.

But there’s another good reason to endorse them. Emphasis mine:

Our study provides a unique window on quotas and, at the same time, pushes forward the measurement of competence in political selection. It uses the fact that, in 1993, Sweden’s Social Democratic party voluntarily introduced a strict gender quota for its candidates. In internal discussions of the reform, the party’s Women’s branch observed that some men were more critical than others. The quota became known colloquially as the “Crisis of the Mediocre Man,” since the incompetent men had the most to fear from an influx of women into politics.

If all genders are equal, but one gender has more representatives than the others, then by necessity there must be more mediocre members of that gender represented. Their average competence would be less than that of all other genders. We can measure that! And as yet another study found, quotas do indeed increase overall competence.

Within each local party, we compare the proportion of competent politicians in elections after the quota to the 1991 level. The figure below show some striking results. The left panel illustrates our estimates for politicians of both genders with black dots showing the change in the proportion of competent representatives in a party which is forced to increase their share of women (by 100 percentage points). The right panel splits the results by men and women (blue dots for men and pink dots for women). It shows distinctly that the average competence of male politicians increased in the places where the quota had a larger impact, and that the effect is concentrated to the three elections following the quota. On average, a higher female representation by 10 percentage points raised the proportion of competent men by 3 percentage points! For the competence of women, we observe little discernible effect.

Figure 1, from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2017/03/13/gender-quotas-and-the-crisis-of-the-mediocre-man/Subdividing the men into leaders and followers reveals another interesting finding; there is clear evidence of a reduction in the proportion of male leaders (those at the top of the ballot) with mediocre competence. This suggests that quotas work in part by shifting incentives in the composing party ballots. Mediocre leaders are either kicked out or resign in the wake of more gender parity. Because new leaders – on average – are more competent, they feel less threatened by selecting more able candidates, which starts a virtuous circle of higher competence.

Embrace your inner socialist, and consider gender quotas. It’s good for business!

The Intersection of Intersex and Trans*

Shiv blogged about a fascinating article on TransAdvocate. The title gives you a good preview: “An intersex perspective on the trans, intersex and TERF communities.” It seems some intersex people are drawn to “gender critical” feminism; on the surface, they argue against surgery and claim to push back against the notion of binary gender.

But, when you get into the details,

intersex advocates and “gender critical feminists” have very different end positions on medical interventions into the sexed body. Intersex advocates believe that no intervention should be forced–but also that once an intersex person is old enough to give full informed consent, that hormonal, surgical, or others interventions should be performed if that’s what the individual truly wants. Many, many, many intersex people do choose interventions of their own free will. …  Intersex people often seek hormone replacement therapy to masculinize or feminize their bodies, or surgeries to move their urethras to allow neater or standing urination, or any of a wide number of other interventions. And intersex advocates support all of these choices. We just wish them to be free choices, not forced by doctors or parents or social shaming.

Gender-critical feminists, on the other hand, turn out to hold a very different position: that all interventions into the sexed body are mutilations, not just those imposed without consent. Just as it is a mutilation to surgically alter the innocent bodies of intersex babies, they say, it is a pointless self-mutilation for an adult to choose to have their sexed body medically altered, because sex cannot be changed. …  The only healthy and feminist response to unhappiness with one’s body presented is to learn to accept it as it is. For intersex people, this just replaces the rigid regime of forcing medical interventions with a rigid regime of withholding them. Switching one constraint on intersex people for another isn’t the motivation for this gender critical position–I don’t know if they are even aware that intersex people desire some medical interventions. The main purpose of their argument that one must accept the natural body is to tell trans people that they must give up on the “delusion” that one can be born with a penis but really be a woman, or born with a vagina but really be a man, or born a human being and really be a member of some alternative sex.

This is but one of the many insights Cary Costello’s article offers. At one point, I summarised early TERFs as “lesbians squicking out over potential penis.” It was unabashedly superficial, but I’m not the only one to notice the fixation on genitals.

But participating in discussions with gender crits, it quickly becomes apparent that they are indeed transphobic–and apparently obsessed with penises. They talk about them constantly, and presume that all trans women have them (because they say even a trans woman who has genital reconstructive surgery now simply possesses an “inverted penis”). And penises are always presented as dangerous–“natal [cis] girls” might see them in locker rooms and be traumatized, trans-protective laws would mean no woman could ever be sure the person in the next stall didn’t have a penis, and thus pose a threat to her. This obsession with other people’s genitals and validation of the idea that people should be upset by those with the “wrong ones” runs completely counter to the interests of intersex people. …  In painting trans women’s bodies as deceptive, dangerous and disgusting, transphobic feminists paint those born sex variant with the same brush.

But I didn’t point you to the article just because it pokes holes in TERF ideology; there are excellent observations about the overlap between the trans* and intersex communities, with suggestions for improvement. No spoilers, though, you’ll have to read those for yourself. Cary Costello’s article deserves a second shout-out.

Journal Club 2: Gender Studies

Last time, we got half-way through Gender & Societyvolume 31 issue 3, June 2017. Before the book reviews, there are two more papers, one of which I’ll cover in this post.

Contemporary Ukraine offers a dynamic case study of how money can be used to restabilize gender relations during rapid social transition. Currently adapting to a market economy, Ukrainians have invented methods of differentiating and gendering money that preserve older ideals of masculinity and femininity. Soviet definitions of masculinity stressed men’s labor in the public sphere and breadwinning in the home (Ashwin 2000). With the collapse of the state and growth of the market, the criteria for masculinity have largely remained the same, but the resources available to men have not. This creates a dilemma that couples must strategize to overcome. Making use of this theoretically illuminating case, I ask: How do couples “gender” money in Ukraine? How is men’s money symbolically different from women’s money? When and how is money used as a prop and tool to construct gender boundaries?

Drawing on 56 in-depth interviews with married and cohabiting individuals, I illustrate how individuals use money to sustain a specific gender ideology, one that both preserves men’s breadwinning status and gives symbolic deference to women’s authority in the home. By outlining this process, I demonstrate how money helps constitute gender structures.

Anderson, Nadina L. “To Provide and Protect: Gendering Money in Ukrainian Households.” Gender & Society 31.3 (2017): 360-361.

Part of the reason why the second part of this series took to long is that I fell down a few rabbit-holes. Some of the citations were especially fascinating; I love historic accounts of social issues, because our ancestors often had a very different perspective on things. For instance, imagine the following scenario: a small child is killed by a light rail train, as many places use for public transit. What would happen nowadays? I’m pretty confident you wouldn’t answer with this:

The motorman [electric train car driver] “had a narrow escape from violence of a mob estimated by police… to have been 3,000 strong.” Press accounts describe the girl’s father as “so frenzied with grief that he had to be forced to give up a frantic attempt on the motorman’s life.”

Zelizer, Viviana A. Rotman. Pricing the priceless child: The changing social value of children. Princeton University Press, 1985. pg. 22-23.

Nor would you answer with what was common before that:

Until the eighteenth century in England and in Europe, the death of an infant or a young child was a minor event, met with a mixture of indifference and resignation. As Montaigne remarked, “I have lost two or three children in infancy, not without regret, but without great sorrow.” Laurence Stone, in his investigation of the English family, found no evidence of the purchase of mourning, not even an armband, when a very young child died in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries. Parents seldom attended their own child’s funerals.

Ibid. pg. 24

There must surely be a question burning in your brain at this moment: why? Why did our view of child death shift so dramatically in less than a century, then shift again to the modern view? Which society has the “best” view? Through studying how we used to view issues, we shed light on our contemporary views. We can accomplish the same by studying other cultures.

The Soviet state declared motherhood a public good and directly paid mothers for the production of children (Ashwin 2000). Ukrainian women were not confined to the home during industrialization, nor were they seen as warm, altruistic dependents of men (Utrata 2015). Soviet culture championed male breadwinning in part because it minimized men’s role in the home and subdued private patriarchy, which was a major threat to communist solidarity (Ashwin and Lytkina 2004). Ideologically, the “progress” of white couples in Moscow was contrasted with the “backward” practices of the Tatars, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and other minorities, who were deemed inferior in part because they clung to sexist, religious ideals of private patriarchy (Harris 2004). Gender equality was championed, not by eradicating gender boundaries but by emphasizing marriage-as-partnership and a gendered division of labor (Ironside 2014).

Anderson 2017, pg. 365

It’s like looking at a fun-house mirror; we find a sexist division of labour similar to what’s in North America, but with the tweak that motherhood is rewarded both culturally and financially. The Ukrainian system follows the ideal of “separate but equal” a lot better than ours.

Alas, the methodology of this study is weak, consisting of a convenience sample coded by the researcher themselves. It’s still valuable in that it establishes plausibility, leaving the door open for better designed studies to outline the more quantitative aspects. It also provides some insights into the symbolic use of money, something (apparently) rarely considered in the literature.

For men, the act of giving money to their wives, signaled deference to women’s superior knowledge of consumption and household affairs. Men were able to wash their hands of money: letting managing be a women’s task. For women, breadwinning money signaled that men cared and trusted them; it was tangible evidence that men contributed to the marital relationship. Breadwinning money was valued, not for what it could buy in a market context, but for what it symbolized to the partners (i.e., deference, respect, and care). By contributing something, however small, poor men could still engage in this symbolic exchange. … For the symbolic exchange to occur, men’s contribution had to be earmarked and separated from other monies in the household. This prompted couples to “gender” money — to exchange, separate, and earmark money in ways that highlighted men’s earnings and made them more visible in the household.

Ibid. pg. 368-369

To us in North America, money symbolises power rather than equality or trust. Interestingly, a few of the Ukrainian couples did treat money as an expression of power:

Two men attempted to restrict women’s spending by allotting them money based on expressed need. This interrupted the symbolic exchange of men’s money. If women had to beg or ask for money, men’s breadwinning money no longer symbolized his respect for her feminine expertise in the home. The conflict that ensued had an interesting consequence: namely, when partners disagreed about the meaning of money in exchange, money in the home began to resemble money in the market — the partner with more money had more control.

Ibid. pg. 377.

There’s a faint odour of economic abuse here, but the sample size is much too small to be insightful. Still, this is one study I’d love to see some follow-up on.