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.

Journal Club 1: Gender Studies

Last time, I pointed out that within the Boghossian/Lindsay kerfuffle no-one was explaining how you could falsify gender studies. As I’ve read more and more of those criticisms, I’ve noticed another omission: what the heck is in a gender studies journal? The original paper only makes sense if it closely mirrors what you’d find in a relevant journal.

So let’s abuse my academic access to pop open the cover of one such journal.

Gender & Society, the official journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, is a top-ranked journal in sociology and women’s studies and publishes less than 10% of all papers submitted to it. Articles analyze gender and gendered processes in interactions, organizations, societies, and global and transnational spaces. The journal publishes empirical articles, along with reviews of books.

They also happened to be at the top of one list of gender studies journals. I’ll go with their latest edition as of this typing, volume 31 issue 3, which is dated June 2017.

[Read more…]

So You Wanna Falsify Gender Studies?

How would a skeptic determine whether or not an area of study was legit? The obvious route would be to study up on the core premises of that field, recording citations as you go; map out how they are connected to one another and supported by the evidence, looking for weak spots; then write a series of articles sharing those findings.

What they wouldn’t do is generate a fake paper purporting to be from that field of study but deliberately mangling the terminology, submit it to a low-ranked and obscure journal for peer review, have it rejected from that journal, based on feedback then submit it to an second journal that was semi-shady and even more obscure, have it published, then parade that around as if it meant something.

Alas, it seems the Skeptic movement has no idea how basic skepticism works. Self-proclaimed “skeptics” Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay took the second route, and were cheered on by Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Steven Pinker, and other people calling themselves skeptics. A million other people have pointed and laughed at them, so I won’t bother joining in.

But no-one seems to have brought up the first route. Let’s do a sketch of actual skepticism, then, and see how well gender studies holds up.

What’s Claimed?

Right off the bat, we hit a problem: most researchers or advocates in gender studies do not have a consensus sex or gender model.

The Genderbread Person, version 3.3. From

This is one of the more popular explainers for gender floating out on the web. Rather than focus on the details, however, I’d like you to note this graphic is labeled “version 3.3”. In other words, Sam Killermann has tweaked and revised it three times over. It also conflicts with the Gender Unicorn, which has a categorical approach to “biological sex” and adds “other genders,” and it no longer embraces the idea of a spectrum thus contradicting a lot of other models. Confront Killermann on this, and I bet they’d shrug their shoulders and start crafting another model.

The model isn’t all that important. Instead, gender studies has reached a consensus on an axiom and a corollary: the two-sex, two-gender model is an oversimplification, and that sex/gender are complicated. Hence why models of sex or gender continually fail, the complexity almost guarantees exceptions to your rules.

There’s a strong parallel here to agnostic atheism’s “lack of belief” posture, as this flips the burden of proof. Critiquing the consensus of gender studies means asserting a positive statement, that the binarist model is correct, while the defense merely needs to swat down those arguments without advancing any of its own.

Nothing Fails Like Binarism

A single counter-example is sufficient to refute a universal rule. To take a classic example, I can show “all swans are white” is a false statement by finding a single black swan. If someone came along and said “well yeah, but most swans are white, so we can still say that all swans are white,” you’d think of them as delusional or in denial.

Well, I can point to four people who do not fit into the two-sex two-gender model. Ergo, that model cannot be true in all cases, and the critique of gender studies fails after a thirty second Google search.

When most people are confronted with this, they invoke a three-sex model (male, female, and “other/defective”) but call it two-sex in order to preserve their delusion. That so few people notice the contradiction is a testament to how hard the binary model is hammered into us.

But Where’s the SCIENCE?!

Another popular dodge is to argue that merely saying you don’t fit into the binary isn’t enough; if it wasn’t in peer-reviewed research, it can’t be true. This is no less silly. Do I need to publish a paper about the continent of Africa to say it exists? Or my computer? If you doubt me, browse Retraction Watch for a spell.

Once you’ve come back, go look at the peer-reviewed research which suggests gender is more complicated than a simple binary.

At times, the prevailing answers were almost as simple as Gray’s suggestion that the sexes come from different planets. At other times, and increasingly so today, the answers concerning the why of men’s and women’s experiences and actions have involved complex multifaceted frameworks.

Ashmore, Richard D., and Andrea D. Sewell. “Sex/Gender and the Individual.” In Advanced Personality, edited by David F. Barone, Michel Hersen, and Vincent B. Van Hasselt, 377–408. The Plenum Series in Social/Clinical Psychology. Springer US, 1998. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8580-4_16.

Correlational findings with the three scales (self-ratings) suggest that sex-specific behaviors tend to be mutually exclusive while male- and female-valued behaviors form a dualism and are actually positively rather than negatively correlated. Additional analyses showed that individuals with nontraditional sex role attitudes or personality trait organization (especially cross-sex typing) were somewhat less conventionally sex typed in their behaviors and interests than were those with traditional attitudes or sex-typed personality traits. However, these relationships tended to be small, suggesting a general independence of sex role traits, attitudes, and behaviors.

Orlofsky, Jacob L. “Relationship between Sex Role Attitudes and Personality Traits and the Sex Role Behavior Scale-1: A New Measure of Masculine and Feminine Role Behaviors and Interests.” Journal of Personality 40, no. 5 (May 1981): 927–40.

Women’s scores on the BSRI-M and PAQ-M (masculine) scales have increased steadily over time (r’s = .74 and .43, respectively). Women’s BSRI-F and PAQ-F (feminine) scale  scores do not correlate with year. Men’s BSRI-M scores show a weaker positive relationship with year of administration (r = .47). The effect size for sex differences on the BSRI-M has also changed over time, showing a significant decrease over the twenty-year period. The results suggest that cultural change and environment may affect individual personalities; these changes in BSRI and PAQ means demonstrate women’s increased endorsement of masculine-stereotyped traits and men’s continued nonendorsement of feminine-stereotyped traits.

Twenge, Jean M. “Changes in Masculine and Feminine Traits over Time: A Meta-Analysis.” Sex Roles 36, no. 5–6 (March 1, 1997): 305–25. doi:10.1007/BF02766650.

Male (n = 95) and female (n = 221) college students were given 2 measures of gender-related personality traits, the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, and 3 measures of sex role attitudes. Correlations between the personality and the attitude measures were traced to responses to the pair of negatively correlated BSRI items, masculine and feminine, thus confirming a multifactorial approach to gender, as opposed to a unifactorial gender schema theory.

Spence, Janet T. “Gender-Related Traits and Gender Ideology: Evidence for a Multifactorial Theory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64, no. 4 (1993): 624.

Oh sorry, you didn’t know that gender studies has been a science for over four decades? You thought it was just an invention of Tumblr, rather than a mad scramble by scientists to catch up with philosophers? Tsk, that’s what you get for pretending to be a skeptic instead of doing your homework.

I Hate Reading

One final objection is that field-specific jargon is hard to understand. Boghossian and Lindsay seem to think it follows that the jargon is therefore meaningless bafflegab. I’d hate to see what they’d think of a modern physics paper; jargon offers precise definitions and less typing to communicate your ideas, and while it can quickly become opaque to lay people jargon is a necessity for serious science.

But let’s roll with the punch, and look outside of journals for evidence that’s aimed at a lay reader.

In Sexing the Body, Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality Fausto-Sterling attempts to answer two questions: How is knowledge about the body gendered? And, how gender and sexuality become somatic facts? In other words, she passionately and with impressive intellectual clarity demonstrates how in regards to human sexuality the social becomes material. She takes a broad, interdisciplinary perspective in examining this process of gender embodiment. Her goal is to demonstrate not only how the categories (men/women) humans use to describe other humans become embodied in those to whom they refer, but also how these categories are not reflect ed in reality. She argues that labeling someone a man or a woman is solely a social decision. «We may use scientific knowledge to help us make the decision, but only our beliefs about gender – not science – can define our sex» (p. 3) and consistently throughout the book she shows how gender beliefs affect what kinds of knowledge are produced about sex, sexual behaviors, and ultimately gender.

Gober, Greta. “Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality.” Humana.Mente Journal of Philosophical Studies, 2012, Vol. 22, 175–187

Making Sex is an ambitious investigation of Western scientific conceptions of sexual difference. A historian by profession, Laqueur locates the major conceptual divide in the late eighteenth century when, as he puts it, “a biology of cosmic hierarchy gave way to a biology of incommensurability, anchored in the body, in which the relationship of men to women, like that of apples to oranges, was not given as one of equality or inequality but rather of difference” (207). He claims that the ancients and their immediate heirs—unlike us—saw sexual difference as a set of relatively unimportant differences of degree within “the one-sex body.” According to this model, female sexual organs were perfectly homologous to male ones, only inside out; and bodily fluids—semen, blood, milk—were mostly “fungible” and composed of the same basic matter. The model didn’t imply equality; woman was a lesser man, just not a thing wholly different in kind.

Altman, Meryl, and Keith Nightenhelser. “Making Sex (Review).” Postmodern Culture 2, no. 3 (January 5, 1992). doi:10.1353/pmc.1992.0027.

In Delusions of Gender the psychologist Cordelia Fine exposes the bad science, the ridiculous arguments and the persistent biases that blind us to the ways we ourselves enforce the gender stereotypes we think we are trying to overcome. […]

Most studies about people’s ways of thinking and behaving find no differences between men and women, but these fail to spark the interest of publishers and languish in the file drawer. The oversimplified models of gender and genes that then prevail allow gender culture to be passed down from generation to generation, as though it were all in the genes. Gender, however, is in the mind, fixed in place by the way we store information.

Mental schema organise complex experiences into types of things so that we can process data efficiently, allowing us, for example, to recognise something as a chair without having to notice every detail. This efficiency comes at a cost, because when we automatically categorise experience we fail to question our assumptions. Fine draws together research that shows people who pride themselves on their lack of bias persist in making stereotypical associations just below the threshold of consciousness.

Everyone works together to re-inforce social and cultural environments that soft-wire the circuits of the brain as male or female, so that we have no idea what men and women might become if we were truly free from bias.

Apter, Terri. “Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine.” The Guardian, October 11, 2010, sec. Books.

Have At ‘r, “Skeptics”

You want to refute the field of gender studies? I’ve just sketched out the challenges you face on a philosophical level, and pointed you to the studies and books you need to refute. Have fun! If you need me I’ll be over here, laughing.

[HJH 2017-05-21: Added more links, minor grammar tweaks.]

[HJH 2017-05-22: Missed Steven Pinker’s Tweet. Also, this Skeptic fail may have gone mainstream:

Boghossian and Lindsay likely did damage to the cultural movements that they have helped to build, namely “new atheism” and the skeptic community. As far as I can tell, neither of them knows much about gender studies, despite their confident and even haughty claims about the deep theoretical flaws of that discipline. As a skeptic myself, I am cautious about the constellation of cognitive biases to which our evolved brains are perpetually susceptible, including motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, disconfirmation bias, overconfidence and belief perseverance. That is partly why, as a general rule, if one wants to criticize a topic X, one should at the very least know enough about X to convince true experts in the relevant field that one is competent about X. This gets at what Brian Caplan calls the “ideological Turing test.” If you can’t pass this test, there’s a good chance you don’t know enough about the topic to offer a serious, one might even say cogent, critique.

Boghossian and Lindsay pretty clearly don’t pass that test. Their main claim to relevant knowledge in gender studies seems to be citations from Wikipedia and mockingly retweeting abstracts that they, as non-experts, find funny — which is rather like Sarah Palin’s mocking of scientists for studying fruit flies or claiming that Obamacare would entail “death panels.” This kind of unscholarly engagement has rather predictably led to a sizable backlash from serious scholars on social media who have noted that the skeptic community can sometimes be anything but skeptical about its own ignorance and ideological commitments.

When the scientists you claim to worship are saying your behavior is unscientific, maaaaybe you should take a hard look at yourself.]

Intersex and Sex Denialism

This was a pleasant surprise.

For generations those who, for biological reasons, don’t fit the usual male/female categories have faced violence and stigma in Kenya. Intersex people – as they are commonly known in Kenya – were traditionally seen as a bad omen bringing a curse upon their family and neighbours. Most were kept in hiding and many were killed at birth. But now a new generation of home-grown activists and medical experts are helping intersex people to come out into the open. They’re rejecting the old idea that intersex people must be assigned a gender in infancy and stick to it and are calling on the government to instead grant them legal recognition.

While some of those people are trans*, that podcast does talk with a number of intersex people as well. It’s great to see more advocacy, I just wish I’d see more of it in North America and less of this.

The facts of the world generally don’t support transphobic arguments, and transphobes don’t really have the option of making robust arguments based on an honest assessment of the current state of our knowledge. They know this – they make use of this same technique of pondering counterfactuals. The difference is that they work backwards to fabricate an entirely new counter-reality, tailored to support their positions and vast enough that it can substitute for reality itself in a person’s mind. It’s called denialism: an entire ideological support system made to preserve a desired belief by rejecting the overwhelming evidence that would threaten this belief.

Denialism is wrongness with an infrastructure – ignorance with an armored shell, a whole fake world weaponized against the real world.

Less of “denialism,” that is, not good analysis or Zinnia Jones. She gets a bit meta behind the link, and the contents are applicable to much more than transphobia. It’s worth a full read.
(That last item comes courtesy of Shiv. Support her work, too!)

Unhealthy Acts

If there’s one thing Canadian can agree on, it’s that our health care system is better than the one in the USA. It’s a chronic talking point.

“Canadians have a genuine fear of ‘American-style’ health care, and any discussion of private partnership in health is quickly quelled for this reason,” the [Ontario Chamber of Commerce] wrote. “But this ignores both the considerable share of health care already delivered by the private sector as well as the robust and equitable role of industry in other single-payer models such as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service or Australia’s Medicare.”

I think it’s actually a problem, as we should be comparing our system to the superior ones in Britain and France rather than being thankful we don’t have it worse. But just when I think the narrative will shift, things like this keep popping up.

The MacArthur-Meadows amendment to the AHCA, proposed by Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, would allow states to waive the current ban that prevents insurance companies from charging premium rates to customers based on their health history. This essentially allows pre-Obamacare discriminatory practices to once again be legalized. […]

If the MacArthur-Meadows amendment allows this type of discrimination to come back under the AHCA, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence would face an extremely difficult decision: seek treatment and be forced to potentially pay more for health insurance, or refuse to go to the doctor and remain untreated for horrific injuries they have endured both mentally and physically. […]

Other largely gender-specific conditions, like postpartum depression and C-sections, would also be considered preexisting conditions under the new health care plan.

Cesarian sections? Sexual assault?! Oh, but it gets worse.

(The American Health Care Act could once again allow insurers to charge people more with these “preexisting conditions” ) * Breast cancer * Uterine cancer * Pregnancy or expectant parent * A Cesarean delivery * Being a survivor of domestic violence * Medical treatment for sexual assault * Mental disorders (severe, e.g., bipolar, eating disorder) * AIDS/HIV * Lupus * Alcohol abuse/drug abuse with recent treatment * Alzheimer’s/dementia * Multiple sclerosis * Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease * Muscular dystrophy * Any cancer within some period of time (e.g., 10 years, often other than basal skin cancer) * Obesity, severe * Cerebral palsy * Organ transplant * Congestive heart failure * Paraplegia * Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery * Paralysis * Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis * Parkinson’s disease * Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema * Pending surgery or hospitalization * Diabetes mellitus * Pneumocystic pneumonia * Epilepsy * Hemophilia * Sleep apnea * Hepatitis (hep C) * Stroke * Kidney disease, renal failure * Transsexualism (Other conditions insurers could use to increase the cost of insurance ) * Urinary tract infections * Menstrual irregularities * Migraine headaches * Acne * Allergies * Anxiety * Asthma * Basal cell skin cancer * Depression * Ear infections * Fractures * High cholesterol * Hypertension * Incontinence * Joint injuries * Kidney stones * Overweight * Restless leg syndrome * Tonsillitis * Varicose veins * Vertigo

Having hemophilia, allergies, or menstrual irregularities are grounds to charge you more for medical care?! Jesus, America, you really need to get your shit together. Some day I wish I’ll be able to say “if only the Canadian health-care system was as good as the one in the US.”

Zvan on the Gendered Pay Gap

I have a really nice document about the gendered pay gap buried on a hard drive. To write it, I spent a good few months reading policy documents and research study after research study after research study after research stu– well, you get the point. My favorite of the bunch is this one. The gender breakdown of an industry tends to vary with time, so Emily Murphy and Daniel Oesch looked into whether or not that effected pay.

Both baseline models suggest that moving from a male to a female occupation – or staying within an occupation that feminizes – entails a sizeable wage loss. Adding controls for the workplace (M1) and general human capital (M2) makes no difference: the wage penalty associated with FEM amounts to about 15 per cent for British women, British men and Swiss women, 15 and to about 5 per cent for German women, German men and Swiss men.
If women rush to your occupation, your wages drop… even if you’re a man or a childless woman. This is tough to explain as anything but discrimination.
While I’ve been mulling over how and when to release my document, Stephanie Zvan independently came up with her own version.
Let’s start by noting that at least one person who studies the factors that account for pay gaps says that choice of careers, while a factor in unequal pay, is not the silver-bullet solution that paygap critics suggest. It isn’t even the biggest factor driving the difference between men’s and women’s wages. […]
… even though women work fewer paid hours than men, they work the same number of hours overall. The reason women more frequently require constrained work weeks and more flexibility in their schedules is that they do the bulk of the unpaid work that makes our society run, particularly caregiving, both for children and for other adults.
It may not have an excessive number of footnotes, but her version states much the same thing as mine in fewer words and clearer language. Give it a read, in honour of International Why-Isn’t-There-An-International-Men’s-Day Day.

BBC’s “Transgender Kids, Who Knows Best?” p4: Dirty Sexy Brains

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the many claims of the documentary concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now…
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains

In North America, one of our pet obsessions is dividing everything up according to sex. Gendered toys, gendered clothes, gendered bathrooms, even gendered jobs. And yet if you follow those links, you’ll find these divisions were always in flux: gender-neutral toys used to be common yet are increasingly rare; dresses were gender-neutral, and colours weren’t gendered until roughly World War I; there were no public women’s washrooms in the US until the 1880’s, because women weren’t allowed in public; and computer science flipped from being women’s work to men’s work in the span of a few decades, leading to increased salaries and prestige.

This extends all the way down to our organs.

[Read more…]

BBC’s “Transgender Kids, Who Knows Best?” p1: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the many claims of the documentary concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains


Petitions seem as common as pennies, but this one stood out to me (emphasis in original).

The BBC is set to broadcast a documentary on BBC Two on the 12th January 2017 at 9pm called ‘Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?‘. The documentary is based on the controversial views of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who believes that Gender Dysphoria in children should be treated as a mental health issue.

In simpler terms, Dr. Zucker thinks that being/querying being Transgender as a child is not valid, and should be classed as a mental health issue. […]

To clarify, this petition is not to stop this program for being broadcast entirely; however no transgender experts in the UK have watched over this program, which potentially may have a transphobic undertone. We simply don’t know what to expect from the program, however from his history and the synopsis available online, we can make an educated guess that it won’t be in support of Transgender Rights for Children.

That last paragraph is striking; who makes a documentary about a group of people without consulting experts, let alone gets it aired on national TV? It helps explain why a petition over something that hadn’t happened yet earned 11,000+ signatures.

Now if you’ve checked your watch, you’ve probably noticed the documentary came and went. I’ve been keeping an eye out for reviews, and they fall into two camps: enthusiastic support

So it’s a good thing BBC didn’t listen to those claiming this documentary shouldn’t have run. As it turns out, it’s an informative, sophisticated, and generally fair treatment of an incredibly complex and fraught subject.

… and enthusiastic opposition

The show seems to have been designed to cause maximum harm to #trans children and their families. I can hardly begin to tackle here the number of areas in which the show was inaccurate, misleading, demonising, damaging and plain false.

… but I have yet to see someone do an in-depth analysis of the claims made in this specific documentary. So Siobhan is doing precisely that, in a series of blog posts.
[Read more…]

My Little Takedown of Christina Hoff Sommers

[Guest blogger HJ Hornbeck, here! This originally started off as a reply to someones’ comment, but it’s been greatly expanded and stands on its own. A hat tip to Ophelia Benson is in order, too, for providing some of the raw material via her blog, as well as for giving me the platform.]

Who is Christina Hoff Sommers? Let’s start off with one of her former employers, the Independent Women’s Forum, where she once served on the board. Wikipedia offers this summary of them:

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is a politically conservative American non-profit organization focused on policy issues of concern to women. The IWF was founded by activist Rosalie Silberman to promote a “conservative alternative to feminist tenets” following the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas in 1992.

The group advocates “equity feminism,” a term first used by IWF author Christina Hoff Sommers to distinguish “traditional, classically liberal, humanistic feminism” from “gender feminism”, which she claims opposes gender roles as well as patriarchy. According to Sommers, the gender feminist view is “the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders” and “thrives on the myth that American women are the oppressed ‘second sex.’” Sommers’ equity feminism has been described as anti-feminist by critics.

But if you know Sommers at all, you probably know of her through her connection to the American Enterprise Institute.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research(AEI) is an extremely influential, pro-business, think tank founded in 1943 by Lewis H. Brown. It promotes the advancement of free enterprise capitalism and its people have served in influential governmental positions. It is the base for many neo-conservatives. […]

In February 2007, The Guardian (UK) reported that AEI was offering scientists and economists $10,000 each, “to undermine a major climate change report” from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). AEI asked for “articles that emphasise the shortcomings” of the IPCC report, which “is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science.” AEI visiting scholar Kenneth Green made the $10,000 offer “to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere,” in a letter describing the IPCC as “resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent.”

The Guardian reported further that AEI “has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil, and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI’s board of trustees,” added The Guardian.

They too are an active opponent of feminism.

According to an April Newsweek profile, much of AEI’s recent influence has to do with Arthur C. Brooks, … who has been its president since 2009. (A $20 million donation from a Roman Catholic founder of the Carlyle Group probably didn’t hurt, either.) “He’s the message man,” Pema Levy wrote of Brooks. “He may not be a pollster, but Republicans say he possesses a gift for making conservative policies sound appealing.” Newsweek focused on the ways Brooks is nudging conservatives toward less flagrantly uncompassionate policies on poverty. But, judging from these op-eds, the AEI is also employing the most sophisticated techniques to date in the much-discussed Republican “war on women.”

For starters, they’ve put a female face on it. AEI scholar and The War Against Boys author Christina Hoff Sommers has a new “vlog” series, “The Factual Feminist” (as opposed to us fantasy feminists), in which she seeks to invalidate feminist discourse. […]

there is something especially insidious about a woman and self-described feminist like Sommers providing anti-feminist talking points. Her claim that “feminist activists have convinced many young women that a foolish, drunken hookup was actually rape” sounds a lot more credible than, say, Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” distinction, despite meaning essentially the same thing: What women call rape isn’t really that big a deal.

So far, all we see are anti-feminist far-right think tanks. Here’s one exception, though, Prager University:

Dennis Prager is a neoconservative radio host, professional tone troll, and conspiracy theorist who believes that the United States is a Christian nation, and that it’s under attack from “secular leftists” who control the media, universities, public education system, and other institutions. Despite being a fairly extreme conservative, to the point of being a weekly WND columnist, he does moderate on certain issues such as abortion and, to his credit, he does seem to know quite a bit about religion and aspects of United States history. […]

He has also started his own non-profit online program called Prager University which, keeping up with his paranoia around universities turning students into secular bisexual leftists, has the totally not bizarre motto “Undoing the damage of the University… five minutes at a time.” It actually presents history and politics from a hard-right point of view, which includes rampant New Deal denialism, promotion of the Laffer curve, Europhobia, and an off the walls weird interpretation of liberalism.

Her contributions have consisted of a series of videos openly hostile to feminism, such as:

Women in America are the freest in the world, yet many feminists tell us women are oppressed. They advocate this falsehood through victim mentality propaganda and misleading statistics, such as the gender wage gap myth. In five minutes, American Enterprise Institute’s Christina Hoff Sommers tells you the truth about feminism.

So who is Christina Hoff Sommers? While she may bill herself as the “Factual Feminist”, her history suggests she’s a right-wing shill who uses her platform to spread misinformation about feminism, in the hope of opposing social change. I think she’s taking something of an embrace, extend, and extinguish approach: pretend to join up with what you oppose, but alter it to be superficially similar yet quite different and use a mix of money and rhetoric to bury the original version.

Yeah, the above’s a bit of an ad hominem, but I can fix that easily enough by looking at Sommer’s actual arguments. Take her recent video defending GamerGate.

You read that correctly, she’s defending GamerGate:

Well, take it from “Based Mom:” GamerGate overall is a voice for moderation in today’s fevered debates over sex and gender.

“Based Mom” is the nickname GamerGaters have bestowed on Sommers, incidentally. She shows up frequently as a target of affection, earning a place in their fan art, and is considered a leader. But what exactly is GamerGate? Sommers offers this summary:

#GamerGate is a Twitter hashtag, and it attracts gamers from all over the world, males and females, liberals, conservatives, black, white, straight, gay, trans… Some gamers identify with the hashtag because they believe there is too much corruption in gaming. Others are weary of cultural critics who evaluate video games through the prism of gender politics.

That narrative leaves out critical details, though. We have chat logs that show it’s also a coordinated movement plotting to spread hate and lies about women who talk about gender issues in games, with the help of an ex-boyfriend of one of their targets. In one such log, for instance, one member discusses driving Zoe Quinn to suicide, to general agreement, while another frets about keeping up the facade:

Opfag: I’m debating whether or not we should just attack zoe
Opfag: turn her into a victim
Opfag: let her cry and take it further
NASA_Agent: she’s already a victim
OtherGentleman: She’s a professional victim
NASA_Agent: it was real in her mind
ebola-chan: She’s victimizing herself.
Opfag: push her… push her further….. further, until eventually she an heroes
Silver|2: She’s a professional victim. She doesn’t do it for free
OtherGentleman: She can’t even into depression. What makes you think she has the balls to kill herself?
Opfag: I kind of want to just make her life irrepairably horrible
Opfag: At this point.
rd0951: ^^
rd0951: like i siad
NASA_Agent: but what if she suicides
Opfag: Good.
Opfag: Then we get to troll #Rememberzoe
NASA_Agent: #disarmcyberbullies2014
Opfag: And milk the lulcow corpse
OtherGentleman: The more you try to attack her directly, the more she gets to play the victim card and make a bunch of friends who will support her because, since she has a vagina, any attack is misgony
rd0951: ./v should be in charge of the gaming journalism aspect of it. /pol should be in charge of the feminism aspect, and /b should be in charge of harassing her into killing herself
Opfag: I agree.
BurntKimchi: #banassultburgersandfries
NASA_Agent: you don’t see this kind of unity often
Opfag: You don’t
Opfag: We really must be at war
Silver|2: It’s happening

We also have the posts where they come up with journalistic integrity as a cover for their bigotry:

This is a fun interesting story. I’ve been keeping track since the beginning but I think the lot of us are too scattered about what this should really be about. It shouldn’t be about a psycho slut who fucked 5 guys and hurt some betas feelings. I think the focus should be more on that this chick is using sex to climb her way through the ranks of the gaming industry, all while spewing an ideology that she does not believe nor follow.

We need to focus on the fact that she:
>Fucked journalists/game reviewers in order to give the game she designed, positive feedback.
>She fucked her current boss who is married. This is obviously bad, neither her or her boss should be allowed to keep their current job.
>She is a hypocrite that claims a very specific “feminist gamer” ideology and then 180s and has sex with everyone to get what she wants.

We need to expose her as a hypocrite and a liar. The cheating part is just a bonus, yes she’s a slut but there are tons of sluts out there. There is actually proof that she is getting leverage in her career by using sex and that is a travesty and a corruption.

Dude exactly yes.Thus far all that’s happening EVERYWHERE is we’re getting our threads deleted-from giantbomb, from reddit, and from 4chan itself.

What we need to do is bring a true discussion to the table. We need to ignore the dirty laundry between the beta and his slut girlfriend and bring to the table the discussion of “how close is too close when dealing with gaming press and game developers relationships as well as the relationships female game devs have with their superiors”.

Further proof comes from examining what happens on the #Gamergate hashtag, where the majority of discussion is not about ethics at all. We even have archives of where GamerGaters invented a hashtag as a false front, hoping to enlist innocent but gullible people to divide and conquer feminists:

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:56:48 No.261346918
WHO /MINORITY/ HERE? I’m like 2/3 of the things these faggots say they are fighting for, and when I engage them on Twitter (WITH MY FUCKING PERSONAL ACCOUNT) they ignore me. Jesus Christ this is getting frustrating, I might as well be a white male for these faggots.

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:57:44 No.261347051
You fuckers need to organize with your own hashtag and take a stand

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 03:59:14 No.261347271

Something like
And demand the SJWs stop using you as a shield to deflect genuine criticism

Anonymous Wed 03 Sep 2014 04:31:01 No.261349447
#GamerGate + #NotYourShield is an excellent combination. Use it for talking about how you’re for GamerGate but nobody will admit you’re not white, cis and straight.


anonDorf: #notyourshield backup squad reporting in
Albel: mah nigga
Albel: retweet the hell out of that shit
Guest55872: I am non-cis, non-white, non-male
AnimeJustice: Can I use #notyourshield regardless?
Guest55872: Albel, you need my selfie?
Albel: Nah, I’m good bud.
Guest55872: Albel, asking, ’cause I do not tweet
foTTS: Use #gamergate and #notyourshield at the same time, pls Albel anonDorf AnimeJustice
Guest55872: anonDorf, want mines?
Albel: FoTTS: Sadly, I don’t fall under any of the #notyourshield categories but I’ll put it in there where I can
foTTS: spread the word about notyourshield Albel
anonDorf: Yeah why not
Guest55872: NICe

codeswish: yea, femfreq is easy PR, you forget that sending her a nice tweet gets them lots of retweets from her followers
Albel: codeswish: That’s fine. You know, maybe part of #gamergate is that we should not demonize femfreq
Albel: “Hey, I don’t necessarily with @femfreq but we here in #gamergate don’t condone the harassment.”
codeswish: The Sarkeesian Effect will handle it for us
W334800: Anita and Zoe are passive aggressive competing or victim-queen
AAAAaaaaAAAA: someone needs to set those 2 attention whores against each other
randompleb: that’s a brilliant idea
Guest55872: ^^
randompleb: two black holes eating each other
AAAAaaaaAAAA: find a way to make the ZQ followers hostile towards the AS followers

This coordinated assault has had real consequences:

The next day, my Twitter mentions were full of death threats so severe I had to flee my home. They have targeted the financial assets of my company by hacking. They have tried to impersonate me on Twitter. Even as we speak, they are spreading lies to journalists via burner e-mail accounts in an attempt to destroy me professionally.

We’ve lost too many women to this lunatic mob. Good women the industry was lucky to have, such as Jenn Frank, Mattie Bryce and my friend Samantha Allen, one of the most insightful critics in games media. They decided the personal cost was too high, and I don’t know who could blame them.

Every woman I know in the industry is terrified she will be next.

GamerGate, in short, is a hate group. While there may be positive elements to it, we have good reason to expect they will or are being exploited by the negative ones.

Which returns us to Christina Hoff Sommers:

Now, I discovered GamerGate when I was working on my recent video about sexism in games. Now in that video, I pointed out that the evidence does not support the claim that video games cause violence or misogyny. I mean gaming has surged since the early 1990’s, but youth crime has plummeted. And Millennials who were born and raised in “video game nation,” they are far less sexist, homophobic, bigoted than older generations.

Note the bait and switch? Sommers swiftly transitions from discussing sexism, to discussing violence, racism, and homophobia. She jumps from talking about video games to talking about youth crime, as if the greatest predictor of the latter was the former. It’s not.[1] If her case was solidly in line with the facts, she would never have to engage in such verbal slight-of-hand; Sommers would just duly report the facts, pointing on existing body of research that demonstrates an accurate, balanced portrayal of women in video games.

She doesn’t, because she can’t. In 2007, a group of researchers looked at video game cover art.[2] Why not the games themselves? Because different people have different skill levels, for different genres, and it’s difficult to capture the entire range in a statistical sample. Plus,

the covers are available for anyone to see, whether they are experienced or not; the covers are easily viewed by those not even interested in playing. For example, video games are usually just one aisle away from the movies in a rental store. Games are not organized by rating so the games rated for mature audiences are often display together with games meant for younger children. There is nothing keeping young children from being exposed to the images on the M-rated games even if they are only seeking an E-rated game. Lastly, for many people the decision to purchase, play, or allow a child to play a game maybe based largely on the material portrayed on the cover.

They found that men were portrayed three times as often, and that while men appear on 9 of 10 game covers, women only appeared on 4 of 10. Men were five times more likely than women to have a primary role on the cover, and four times more likely to have a secondary role. That’s not a typo; since there were four times many men on the covers, they dominated almost every stat. The main exception was objectification: 2 in 10 woman in a primary role were sexually objectified, while not a single man was, for instance. I recommend reading the full study, as I’ve just skimmed off a fraction of the details.

This isn’t an isolated finding, either,[3] [4] [5] [6] yet Sommers is completely ignorant of the research around gaming. She’s also outright lying:

in the earlier video I pointed out that gamers were being blamed for issuing death threats, even though no-one knows who sent them

This is not true.

[Brianna] Wu, who has written about the harassment against women in gaming, has long been critical of the recently-formed Gamergate movement and what she and others have seen as the targeting of women in the industry. Earlier this week she caught the attention of users of the pro-Gamergate message board 8chan after Tweeting snark about the movement, only to then see users of that board mock her, post details about her husband and ultimately publish her personal information (a screencap of a post with redacted info remained on the thread on Saturday).

“I was literally watching 8chan go after me in their specific chatroom for Gamergate,” she told Kotaku today. “They posted my address, and within moments I got that death threat.”

The only people circulating the home addresses of Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, or Zoe Quinn are from GamerGate. Whoever used the home address of those women to drive them out must have been, at minimum, assisted by GamerGate, which itself is a crime. Nor is Brianna Wu an exception, as Anita Sarkeesian demonstrates:

Multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists at USU. For the record one threat did claim affiliation with #gamergate

Note too that Sommers thinks it’s unlikely that someone from a movement known for spreading lies and vicious rhetoric about Sarkeesian could have issued a death threat. She must think a death threat is equally as likely to come from the florist down the street, blissfully unaware of video games, or a supreme court judge, or a five old who can’t pick up a controller. To think that everyone’s equally likely to issue a death threat is a remarkably pessimistic view of humanity. But back to Sommers:

Colin Campbell, the senior reporter at Polygon for example, called me a “reactionary” and he suggested that my indifference to sexism in videos was a “irresponsible abrogation of our shared humanity.” I don’t doubt Mr. Campbell’s sincerity: many games do depict horrific violence, and mistreatment of women.

It’s fascinating how she reduces Campbell to a string of insults. His critique had far more substance than that:

Everything Sommers says comes from the assumption, asserted early in her video, that hardcore games are consumed by men because they are made for men, as if they were in the same category as aftershave and Men’s Health magazine.

But although male domination has been the status quo for many years, the influx of women playing games is a sign that women like to play games. “Hardcore games,” of the kind that women don’t play so much as casual games, are not marketed to address a particularly male need any more than blockbuster movies are; they are male-centric because their makers have failed to figure out how to make them more interesting to women.

All entertainment features subsets of products that are clearly aimed at men or women. Just take a look at the bookshelf in your local supermarket. But games have fallen into this male-centric locus because their makers have not been smart enough to reach outside their historic core target.

But given the choice, Sommers would rather focus on surface gloss instead of substance. This should be a red-flag to skeptics that her arguments are weaker than they first appear. Speaking of which:

But remember, there is vastly more violence and mistreatment of men!

This is misleading. It’s true that the cannon fodder tends to be male. But what’s under discussion isn’t raw body counts, it’s representation and erasure. Yes, men are frequently used for target practice, but it’s also true that men take the leading role, get long-running character arcs that fully flesh them out as human beings. Consider Nathan Drake of Uncharted, Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, Sora of Kingdom Hearts, or William Joseph Blaskowicz of Wolfenstein 3D. Women very rarely get starring roles, or for that matter show up at all. If all you had of the human race was our video games, you’d never guess that half our species was female.

So when women do show up, they’re the exotic “other.” They’re special, and rarely given time to develop their characters beyond the first dimension. Hence, even if women are more likely to be brutalized than men, in terms of raw numbers they’re a very small share of the body count. Sommers is ignoring one form of sexism in order to refute another!

the feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian disagrees. She has called the game “pernicious” and she faults its “shameless sexism,” and the use of the “male gaze.” “Everything about Bayonetta’s design,” says Sarkeesian, “is created specifically for the sexual pleasure of straight male gamers.” Those were her words. Now her critique relies on a 1975 feminist theory about the “male gaze” and how it objectifies and demeans women. But “gaze” theory has evolved since 1975! It turns out that spectators might be able to gaze at a women’s beauty and also identify with her at a human level.

It’s a stretch to call the “Male Gaze” a theory, as Laura Mulvey’s essay was intended to be more polemical than intellectually rigorous (and she invokes quite a bit of Freud).[7] Nonetheless, others realized she was on to something. Heterosexual men are sexually attracted to women, and tend to view men as rivals for that attraction. This translates into a distinctive “gaze” or viewpoint to narratives. The classic example of this is the introduction of Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder in “Dr. No.” She emerges from the ocean partially clothed, as James Bond peeps from the bushes. The camera is reflecting a heterosexual male point of view, and catering to their preferences. There is such a thing as a “female gaze;” compare that scene to one in Casino Royale, where James Bond (Daniel Craig) emerges shirtless from the surf. For that moment, he is being sexualized. You can argue for other, non-heteronormative gazes, and some researchers have,[8] but those two types are the most common.

There’s nothing bad about a male or female gaze, per-se, the problem comes when one becomes dominant. Both men and women see movies, after all, so to appeal to everyone you’d expect movies to be primarily neutral but with moments of male- or female-gaze taking the fore about equally. Instead, the male gaze tends to dominate. This torques women’s view of themselves; a recent study[9] found that college women experienced more body shame and anxiety about their appearance when they were told they’d be interacting with a man, as opposed to interacting with a woman or no-one at all. Effect sizes were moderate, with one of the greatest having Cohen’s d = 0.59.

Objectification isn’t the same, but it’s frequently confused for it. James Bond is a subject; he can choose whether or not to act, and those choices affect the world around him. James Bond’s watch is an object; it does not act by itself, but subjects like James Bond can use it to perform actions. Honey Ryder is more object than subject: she’s there to help Bond defeat Dr. No, where “help” means both literally and metaphorically being pulled around by the arm, spouting worthless exposition, sitting out the final battle until Bond rescues her, then having hot sex with this near-stranger. By the next movie, she’s forgotten and replaced with a prettier model: Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, who would be the second in a long line of interchangeable “Bond Girls.”

The confusion between the Male Gaze and objectification stems from the frequent collusion of the two. If men are rivals under the male gaze, then they tend to be involved in a struggle for power and control. This bleeds over into sexuality, resulting in women being reduced to conquests, trophies, and symbols of virility. Objectification is a natural consequence of the Male Gaze, but only because of the assumptions we absorb from our culture.

Summing up, Sommers is close enough to correct when she says “gaze theory” has evolved since the 1970’s, but her claim that women can be objects and subjects is at odds with the evidence. In the extreme, it’s logically impossible; how can you simultaneously have agency and lack it? That’s an embarrassing oversight for a philosopher.

But what about Sarkeesian’s claim that Bayonetta is designed to appeal to the straight male? Let’s consult a neutral source on the matter.

Bayonetta is portrayed as a tall, beautiful, young woman with a slender but curvy figure much like the other Umbra Witches in her clan. She has black hair wrapped into a beehive-like hairdo and gray eyes with a mole located at bottom of her left cheek close to her lips. Her main attire is composed of a skin-tight suit made out of her hair that has a rose design on the abdomen with long white gloves, black and gray heels, thin gold chains, three small belts strapped on each arm, and a pair of gold, cat-shaped earrings. […]

Because of her hair based fighting techniques, Bayonetta’s outfit becomes more revealing when she uses Wicked Weave techniques. Her suit’s inner section remains running up the middle and back of her body and her hair drapes over her chest to cover it, but the rest of the suit and the sleeves of hair vanish and trail outwards from her head in a spiral of hair and gold chain used to summon the demonic limbs. When summoning full demons, the entire suit disappears and leaves behind her gloves, shoes and watch.

Video game players are rewarded for successfully completing complex attacks with a strip tease by an attractive woman. It’s no surprise Sommers ignored Sarkeesian’s argument, because otherwise she would have been forced to agree.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably seen alarming stories about an army of angry and vicious video gamers, marching under a banner called “GamerGate.” Well, according to these reports, this mob will stop at nothing to defend its “heteronormative privilege.”

Sommers says “heteronormative privilege” as if she’s quoting someone, and by connecting it to the news she makes sound like a common claim. But a simple news search reveals nothing. Expanding things to a normal web search, I can find a blog post by Cathy Smith, but she doesn’t apply the label to GamerGate at all.

It’s not surprising that many of the people who believe in GamerGate see cliques in game development and press. It’s possible these people have dealt with cliques in school, and I do believe that many of the people involved in this are still in school and feel like they’re at the bottom of the rung. Hell, I had no conception of sexism in middle school, and I had internalized a lot of misogyny that I hadn’t realized was a part of me until late high school. It’s hard to understand the concept of male privilege or white privilege or heteronormative privilege when you have to get permission to go to the damn bathroom.

I can find a Tumblr post about gay erasure in gaming, but it dates from before the name “GamerGate” was even coined.

And that’s it.

Where are these claims of “heteronormative privilege?” Sommers must have thought they were so prevalent that she didn’t need to cite them, yet that’s clearly not the case.

Today, at least in certain feminist circles, it’s open season on the sexual preferences of straight males.

It’s curious that someone who dubs themselves the “Factual Feminist” would make claims about feminism without evidence. This should have been a trivially easy citation for Sommers, yet she doesn’t bother. If history is any guide, that’s probably because she has none.

They need to show, not dogmatically assume, that video games make people sexist. The burden of proof rests with them.

By my count, I’ve provided at least five citations demonstrating that video games are sexist, and at least three show it has real-world consequences. Sommers, in contrast, has failed to provide a single one to support her view.

So, who is Christina Hoff Sommers? Possibly someone who quote-mines heated rhetoric from summaries and ignores substantive critique. Certainly, Sommers is a spokesperson for bigots, who’s made a career out of white-washing anti-feminist hate with a superficial gloss of pseudo-intellectualism. Her legacy will be one of promoting the suffering and misery of all genders in the world, presumably just to line her pockets with cold-hard cash.

Illuminati Lich (10:07 AM – 4 Nov 2014):
[JT Eberhard,] A video by Sommers?

JT Eberhard (10:07 AM – 4 Nov 2014):
[Illuminati Lich,] Yeah. I agree with most of what she said.

D.J. Grothe (2:31 PM – 1 Sep 2014):
[Sommers,] You’re a mythbuster in the grand tradition of those who debunk harmful nonsense, speaking truth to power in the public interest.

Richard Dawkins (12:27 AM – 17 Sep 2014):
The “Big Sister is Watching You” Thought Police hate [Sommers]’ Factual Feminism, and you can see why.

Fortunately, good skeptics are capable of looking past the false front and know not to take her claims seriously. I’m not the only one to spot this, by any means:

Laura Flanders. “The ‘Stolen Feminism’ Hoax”. Extra!, Sept. 1st, 1994.

Sharon Presley “Freedom Feminism Still Isn’t Either.” January 30, 2014

Malmsheimer, Taylor. “Conservatives Are Obsessed With Debunking the 1-in-5 Rape Statistic. They’re Wrong, Too.” The New Republic, June 27, 2014.

Ampersand. “Fact-Checking the Anti-Feminists; like Following around an Elephant with a Bucket, No Matter How Much Crap You Clean up They Keep Producing More.” Alas, a Blog. Accessed December 7, 2014.

Johnston, Angus. “Yes, Christina Hoff Sommers Is a Rape Denialist.” Accessed December 10, 2014.


[1] Baron, Stephen W. “General Strain, Street Youth and Crime: A Test of Agnew’s Revised Theory.” Criminology 42, no. 2 (May 1, 2004): 457–84. doi:10.1111/j.1745-9125.2004.tb00526.x.

[2] Burgess, Melinda CR, Steven Paul Stermer, and Stephen R. Burgess. “Sex, lies, and video games: The portrayal of male and female characters on video game covers.” Sex Roles 57.5-6 (2007): 419-433.

[3] Dill, Karen E., and Kathryn P. Thill. “Video game characters and the socialization of gender roles: Young people’s perceptions mirror sexist media depictions.” Sex roles 57.11-12 (2007): 851-864.

[4] Behm-Morawitz, Elizabeth, and Dana Mastro. “The effects of the sexualization of female video game characters on gender stereotyping and female self-concept.” Sex roles 61.11-12 (2009): 808-823.

[5] Dietz, Tracy L. “An examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games: Implications for gender socialization and aggressive behavior.” Sex roles 38.5-6 (1998): 425-442.

[6] Dill, Karen E., Brian P. Brown, and Michael A. Collins. “Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44.5 (2008): 1402-1408.

[7] Mulvey, Laura. “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18.

[8] Wood, Mitchell J. “The Gay Male Gaze.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 17, no. 2 (December 2, 2004): 43–62. doi:10.1300/J041v17n02_03.

[9] Calogero, Rachel M. “A Test Of Objectification Theory: The Effect Of The Male Gaze On Appearance Concerns In College Women.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 28, no. 1 (March 2004): 16–21. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00118.x.

HJH @ 2014/12/10: Added another link to someone critiquing Hoff Sommers.
HJH @ 2015/02/04: It’s “embrace, extend, extinguish.” Stupid dyslexia.