Not Well-Meaning

I’ve dealt with Darryl Bem’s work a few times, and my general impression was that he was a well-meaning kook: yes, he’s believed PSI was real for decades, but I got the impression that he was willing to listen to his critics and incorporate their feedback.

[Dr. Kenneth] Zucker referred to another article in Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology that he claimed implies that “the first line of treatment should be a gender social transition.” Dr. Diane Chen, one of the authors of that paper, told Rewire.News that was incorrect. “I would not agree with that,” wrote Chen. “As you’ll see from the ‘ongoing controversies’ section for pre-pubertal youth, we discuss the relative harm of encouraging social transition.” The paper recommends instead that parents of children considering or undergoing social transition keep their statements to their children open-ended with respect to their eventual adolescence and adulthood.

I don’t get that impression with Dr. Zucker. Siobhan managed to contact the man after his name came up in the news again, and he still seems to be spreading misinformation and common myths.

A common myth about the type of service described by the AAP, and the service Dr. Janssen offers, is that youth are rushed into referrals for hard-to-reverse or irreversible transition procedures. “If someone comes in and their child is saying, ‘I’ve been thinking about this for the last two weeks,’ it’s not like anybody’s going to make a recommendation that child goes on a some sort of irreversible intervention,” Janssen told us. “It’s more like: Let’s understand this and let’s see how this develops over time.” Any biomedical intervention for an adolescent would only be recommended after they meet the criteria for gender dysphoria in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which requires a strong desire to be another sex that persists for at least six months.

Here he is, in print, repeating TERF misinformation about gender dysphoria treatment under the guise of it being a political disagreement. But while I’m willing to give Dr. Harriet Hall some benefit of the doubt on the topic of gender dysphoria, as she demonstrates no expertise, Dr. Zucker quite literally wrote the definition. He cannot invoke ignorance as a defense. Worse, he may not have changed his approach to gender dysphoria treatment, despite the evidence suggesting he should.

The [Centre for Addiction and Mental Health]’s report stopped shy of characterizing Dr. Kenneth Zucker’s practice as conversion therapy, but it did conclude his methods were “out of step” with the latest research findings and that they warranted sweeping reforms. Zucker’s clinic, which was housed inside CAMH but operated largely independently, closed later that year;  […]

Zucker confirmed with Rewire.News that he still offers services similar to his CAMH clinic at his private practice.

If Darryl Bem is a well-meaning kook, Dr. Zucker is a dangerous one. He appears immune to outside criticism, yet comes across as an authority to a lay person. Siobhan’s article lays this out quite nicely; despite being a news report, she has no problem poking giant holes in his assertions. I recommend giving it a read.

Good Scholarship On Gender

I was recommended a YouTube video, “Transphobia: An Analysis,” and it easily lives up to its name. I noticed an overlap, though, between that video and my own attempts at a similar topic: we both relied heavily on the writing of trans people in forming our arguments. Both Philosophy Tube and I cite a specific article by Talia Mae Bettcher:

Consequently, when a trans woman says “I’m a woman” and her body is precisely the kind of body taken to invalidate a claim to womanhood (in mainstream culture), the claim is true in some trans subcultures because the meaning of the word “woman” is different; its very meaning is under contestation … I understand this in terms of Marı́a Lugones’s concept of “multiple worlds of sense” […]

Once we adopt a Lugonian framework for understanding trans oppression and resistance, we can see a serious problem inherent in both the wrong-body and transgender approaches: they take the dominant meanings of gender terms for granted, thereby foreclosing the possibility of multiply resistant meanings (…). In a beyond-the-binary model, to say that trans people are marginal with respect to the binary is to locate them in terms of the categories “man” and “woman” as dominantly understood. If trans bodies can have different resistant meanings, the decision to say of those bodies that they are “mixed” or “in between” is precisely to assume a dominant interpretation. So the problem is not the rigidity of the binary categories but rather the starting assumption that there is only one interpretation in the first place (the dominant one). Similarly, in the wrong-body model, to become a woman or a man requires genital reconstruction surgery as the correction of wrongness. But this is to accept a dominant understanding of what a man or a woman is.

Bettcher, Talia Mae. “Trapped in the wrong theory: Rethinking trans oppression and resistance.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39.2 (2014): 389-390.

While there’s a lot of bad reasoning out there too, the best analysis of gender I’ve seen has come from trans people. It also makes the best analysis I’ve seen from TERFs look like “WRONG” crayon’d on a wall. Take Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, for instance; she’s often held up as one of the best TERF scholars, yet I often find her writing drivel like this:

If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then everyone is “non-binary”.

This basic logical point should be obvious, and yet is denied by most of the proponents of the spectrum model of gender – indeed, it is often met with angry objections from those who label themselves non-binary. But it’s hard to see how this point can be refuted. If gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then every individual alive is non-binary, by definition. There are not just two points. There is a range of points, and we all of us fall somewhere along the spectrum. And then the label “non-binary” becomes redundant, as it fails to pick out a special category of people.

Or, perhaps, “binary” is an anachronistic label for a large collection of people who cluster around certain behaviors and appearance. We can keep using the term until we think of a better one, so long as we acknowledge that, in the context of gender, the sharp boundaries implied by the name do not exist. The premise that gender occupies a spectrum is compatible with this definition of “binary,” and it permits “non-binary” to remain a useful category.

A graphical representation of the prior paragraph.

If you read forward, you’ll find much of her essay consists of hammering the “binary cannot have multiple meanings” nail over and over and over again, until she gets to her true point.

The logical conclusion of all this is: if gender is a spectrum, not a binary, then there are no trans people. Or, alternatively, everyone is trans.

Well yes, if you deny that “binary” can have multiple meanings, and believe everyone agrees the wrong-body model is correct, that conclusion holds. Marı́a Lugones published her work in 2004, so even the latter premise was false a decade before Reilly-Cooper scrawled that article on a wall.

If you are interested in getting to the bottom of what gender is, then you owe it to yourself to check out the work of trans scholars, starting with Talia Mae Bettcher.

As I was pondering [Kathleen] Stock’s arguments, I couldn’t help reflect on the grading I had just completed for the course “Trans Feminist Philosophy.” I wondered whether her essay would have received a passing grade in it.

In this course, we paid particular attention to (non-trans) feminist engagements with trans people, issues, and theory. We used my Stanford Encyclopedia entry “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues” as a guide. It served as the starting point for my lectures and our inquiries. I’ll note that this entry is almost like a little book, coming in at 23,000 words. It also has an extensive and, in my humble opinion, highly useful bibliography that includes literature from the late 1800s until around 2014.

In our discussion of feminist/trans interactions, we began with the expulsion of Beth Elliott (a trans woman, lesbian feminist) from the Daughters of Bilitis San Francisco chapter in late 1972 and then considered the infamous West Coast Lesbian Conference (1973) during which Elliott survived a vote that would have expelled her from the conference. We examined all of the feminist perspectives that were at play at the time—including the pro-trans ones. We then went on to examine Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire (1979), easily the most important work in “gender critical feminism” (although it wasn’t called that at the time). We looked at the emergence of trans studies through the work of Sandy Stone (1991), Kate Bornstein (1994), and Leslie Feinberg (1992). We examined the development of Queer Theory—especially the work of Judith Butler (1990, 1993) and its relation to trans studies and politics. We looked at trans phenomenology (Rubin 1998) and we looked at the FTM/Butch border wars of the nineties (Halberstam 1998, Hale 1998). We looked at more recent feminist perspectives on trans issues (e.g. Cressida Heyes 2003, Gayle Salamon 2010) by non-trans women, and we discussed the development of trans feminism through the work of Emi Koyama (2003, 2006) and Julia Serano (2007). Unfortunately, we ran out of time. We were going to look at some of the more recent debates with regard to gender critical feminism (e.g. Lori Watson 2016, Sara Ahmed 2016, myself). But we had to stop.

Enjoy the dig.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

Does that sound familiar? It should.

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. [Peter] Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.

Yep, after attempting to discredit all of gender studies by publishing a fake paper in a pay-to-publish journal, and being dismayed that no-one thought gender studies had been discredited, Boghossian and crew decided to repeat the experiment, only bigger. There is a unique spin on it this time, however.

While fat activism has disrupted many dominant discourses that causally contribute to negative judgments about fat bodies, it has not yet penetrated the realm of competitive bodybuilding. The author introduces fat bodybuilding as a means of challenging the prevailing assumptions of maximally fat-exclusionary (sports) cultures while raising fundamental ontological questions about what it means to “build a body.” Specifically, he advocates for imagining a new classification within bodybuilding, termed fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance and a new culture to be embedded within bodybuilding.

Baldwin, Richard. “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding.” Fat Studies (2018): 1-13.

That’s one of their hoaxes. But if you read it carefully, you can see a legitimate point.

Conceptually, fat bodybuilding emerged from applying that lens to a prototype: a disruptive “fathletic” event, the “Fattylympics.” The Fattylympics was an act of cultural disruption undertaken as a nonprofit community event in East London in 2012 to satirize the Olympics and offer a different take on “sport, bodies, community, [and] protest” (…). The Fattylympics ultimately relies on (Judith) Butlerian parodic performance, which has been effectively utilized as a culturally disruptive tool, especially with regard to gender/queer activism (…). Here, as Monaghan, Colls, and Evans (2015) explained, “Fattylympics illustrated the possibility of claiming a public space for resisting the dominant anti-fat ethic of sport and physical activity, constructing an alternative value set for active bodies and critically understanding the relationship between fat and health” (117).

“Baldwin” (2018), pg. 3-4

The bit about Judith Butler is pure nonsense that should have been caught during peer review, but their overall proposal is rooted in legitimate body-positive activism. Look at pictures of female weight lifters, and you’ll find two basic body types. The first has a “conventional” body type with minimal fat, not too dissimilar from Michelle Rodriguez or Ronda Rousey.

Type-1 Weightlifters, via Google Image Search.

Type-2 Weightlifters, via Google Image Search.

But there’s a second type, with the stocky barrel-chest that’s more typical of “World’s Strongest Man” events. Women like this are incredibly rare in pop culture; the only example I can think of is Zarya, and she’s a fictional videogame character. The net result is that we’re discouraging or minimizing an entire class of women because they don’t look the way we expect them to. At the same time, it’s clear body fat is not much of a factor in weight-lifting performance. So if we wanted to break body stereotypes, “fat bodybuilding” is a great choice.

“We understood ourselves to be going in to study it as it is, to try to participate in it,” Ms. [Helen] Pluckrose says. “The name for this is ethnography. We’re looking at a particular culture.”

Each paper “combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research,” Mr. Lindsay wrote in a project summary. Their elaborate submissions cited and quoted dozens of real papers and studies to bolster the hoax arguments. […]

The trio say they’ve proved that higher ed’s fixation on identity politics enables “absurd and horrific” scholarship. Their submissions were outlandish—but no more so, they insist, than others written in earnest and published by these journals.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when you are so ignorant of what you’re ignorant of that you think you’re knowledgeable. But if you don’t know anything about gender studies, how can you tell a legitimate paper from a hoax? By doing extensive research to write a hoax paper, yet nonetheless accidentally creating a legitimate one, Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they know jack-shit about gender studies. You will not find a better example of the Dunning-Kruger effect than that trio!

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Yet Mr. Lindsay says the project is worth it: “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”

Oh, I sincerely hope the trio are made academic pariahs. I also hope they achieve enough self-awareness to realize the true reason why.


[HJH 2018-10-03]: I had plans to revise to tack on an addendum. After all, the original paper was about bodybuilding, not weight-lifting, and there’s still the obvious retort “but their goal was to fool you into making a legitimate paper, so aren’t you admitting they succeeded?”

And then I read their methodology, and I realized I didn’t have to.

Specifically, over the course of a year we wrote twenty academic papers and submitted them to significant peer-reviewed academic journals in these fields with the hopes of getting them published. Every paper combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research. Some papers took bigger risks in this regard than others. […]

We wrote academic papers targeting (mostly) highly ranked, peer-reviewed journals in fields we are concerned might be corrupted by scholarship biased by “grievance studies.” These papers were submitted to the best journals we could find, given constraints of the journals’ aims and scopes, and then we used the feedback we received about them from editors and peer reviewers to improve them and our future papers. […]

Each paper was submitted to higher-ranked journals first and then down a line of suitable alternatives until one of the following occurred: it was accepted; it was deemed too unlikely to succeed for reasons we came to understand to continue with it; or we ran out of time.

They had twenty papers going at once, yet by their own admission they made 48 “new submissions.” It’s not clear if “new submissions” includes the original submission, so let’s be charitable and say it does. That means that, on average, each paper went through one and a half rounds of peer review. Peer review is probabilistic: reviewers can vary substantially in terms of how much effort and scrutiny they put in, so if you keep submitting a paper over and over you might get lucky and get lazy reviewers. When you’re submitting twenty papers, you make that much more likely for one of them. When you’re editing your papers according to reviewer feedback to make them better fakes, you raise the odds of that even higher. On top of that, after those edits they’d take the paper to another journal with less prestige, and presumably lower standards for peer review.

It’s like watching evolution in action. The authors kick out what they think are nonsensical ideas; since they know jack-shit about the field they’re trying to discredit, some of those turn out to be legitimate by accident, or nearly so. These do well in peer review, though from the looks of it even their best work needed a second round; it took five months to get their first acceptance, yet the median review time is about three months. Either way, the best of the bunch get edited, accepted, and then published. The failures die out or get edited until they join these “successes.”

In reality, the methodology is heavily rigged to generate “success.”

Speaking of which, let’s look at what counts as a success. Here are the articles they got published:

Wilson, Helen. “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon.” Gender, Place & Culture (2018): 1-20.

Smith, M. “Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia Through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use.” Sexuality & Culture (2018): 1-19.

Richard Baldwin, “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding”, Fat Studies, DOI: 10.1080/21604851.2018.1453622, published online on 10 April 2018.

Baldwin, Richard. “An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant.” Sex Roles (2018): 1-16.

Of those four, two were retracted within days of the news coming out. That’s a damn quick turnaround! Say what you will of the peer review process, but quickly scrubbing nonsense from the scientific record isn’t what you’d expect if the field of gender studies was lax about rigor.

Er, sorry, I mean “grievance studies,” the term Boghossian et al. use. What does that term mean, anyway? Emphasis mine:

The specific problem we targeted has various names in various quarters and is difficult to pin down. Careful academics would refer to it as “critical constructivism” and/or “blank slatism” and its scholars as “radical constructivists.” (In this sense, it is the descendants of postmodernist and poststructuralist thought from the mid 20th century.) Pundits have termed it “academic leftism” or “cultural studies” and identify it with the term “political correctness.”

We prefer to call it “grievance studies” because many of these fields refer to themselves as “[something] studies” and because they operate primarily by focusing upon and inflaming the grievances of certain identity groups.

Uh, “critical constrictivism” and “blank slatism” have nothing in common with each other, and the latter doesn’t exist except as a straw. “Academic leftism” is bad, according to three self-proclaimed “left-leaning liberals?” “Political correctness” has no academic meaning at all. “Grievance studies” has as much coherence as ghosts!

Even if we steel-person the argument and go with “grievance studies” as “focusing upon and inflaming the grievances of certain identity groups,” how does promoting increased acceptance of overweight people fit under that banner? How does making men less homo- and trans-phobic via anal sex toys “focus” and “inflame grievances” in certain groups? How about observing a unique pattern of sexism in “breastaurants?” None of their published papers qualify as “grievance studies” papers, for the most charitable definition of “grievance studies,” so they cannot draw any conclusions about the rigor of that field. Even if their methodology was absolutely perfect, these three still cannot prove what they claim to.

Shit, I’ve seen ghost hunters with a more coherent world view. Is this what organized skepticism has been reduced to?!


[HJH 2018-10-04]: Looks like someone else came to the same conclusion as I did, only on a different paper:

I read the article that Hypatia accepted, “When the Joke Is on You: a Feminist Perspective on how Positionality Influences Satire.” In my opinion, if the citations are legitimate and the descriptions of others’ views are accurate (something which I am not in a position to determine at this time), the editors of Hypatia have nothing to be particularly ashamed of. Most of the twenty-page paper is a reasonable synthesis of others’ ideas about oppression and humor. It may not be groundbreaking (as one of the reviewers points out), but it is not ridiculous. It seems to me that only on the last page of the paper are there certain statements that could be interpreted as outrageous, but they are so vague that a much more charitable alternative interpretation would be reasonable. In short, assuming accurate representations of others’ views and legitimate citations, one’s opinion of Hypatia should not be affected by its publication of this paper.

Now I know some of you won’t believe me. So please, read the paper for yourself. It’s right here (look for the document titled “HOH2 Typeset”). You can also read the referee reports and editors comments here (look for the document titled “HOH2 ReviewerComments”). Let me know what you think.

As that last paragraph implies, Boghossian and friends have released their manuscripts to the public. Now you don’t have to take my word for it.

Don’t Do This, Skeptics

Science is not kind to minorities. Discrimination can make them difficult to identify and count, which combined with the minority’s relative rarity makes it nearly impossible to gather accurate statistics; convenience samples are the norm. Their rarity mean few people are researching them, so the odds of minority overcoming their discrimination and surviving academia to become a researcher are very small. Conversely, the few number of researchers means one bad apple can cause quite a bit of damage, and there’s a good chance researchers buy into the myths about this minority and thus legitimize discrimination.  A lot of care needs to be taken when doing science writing on the topic.

If you want to learn how to do it properly, read Dr. Harriet Hall’s recent article on gender dysphoria in children and do the opposite of what she does. [Read more…]

Why TERFs are not feminists

Nah, I’m not trying to start something with Siggy; heck, I too have pointed out the historical connections between TERFs and feminists. Whether one is a subset of the other will always be a secondary concern next to combating the damage they do. Still, I think there’s an argument for the other side, one that’s worth writing up.

Let’s start with a protest I’ve meant to blog about: a number of women attended a men’s-only swim night. Given just that, you can sketch out a rationale for the action. Sex separation for social gatherings has its roots in a time when we believed men and women should never mix, that we occupied separate spheres. The only good reason I know to allow sex segregation is to help victims of sexual assault, who in some cases can relive their trauma if they share a space with someone of a specific sex. Since that isn’t universal, sex segregation shouldn’t be either, and invading a space that wasn’t separated for that reason is a legit form of protest.

Female activists took a group of male swimmers by surprise on Friday evening when they attended a men-only swim session wearing just trunks and pink swimming caps. Amy Desir, 30, was one of the two women to gain access to the south London pool session, as part of a protest against proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would enable men and women to choose their own gender.

Both women explained their attendance to staff at Dulwich Leisure Centre by saying they “identified as male” and subsequently had the right to be there. […]

Their actions form part of a nationwide campaign formed on Mumsnet called #ManFriday which encourages women to “self-identify” as men every Friday in protest of the proposed amendments to gender laws, which would enable people to self-identify as men or women.

When we add more information, though, things get twisted around. TERFs believe men and women occupy separate spheres, otherwise they wouldn’t have identified as male; at the same time, they also argue that housework shouldn’t be a woman’s duty and the workplace shouldn’t favor men. They also believe that anyone with a penis is a man, to the point of obsession and despite scientific arguments to the contrary. Because of those points, they believe men should be disgusted and unsettled to find women invading their spaces.

They also used the male changing rooms before going into the session and were later asked by an elderly man if they realised it was a male-only session.

In reality, the most common reaction is puzzlement or a shrug of the shoulders. Just recently, in fact, while running some chores I noticed a guy stopped right in the entrance of a men’s washroom, blankly staring at the “Men’s Washroom” sign as if deciphering some puzzle. I walked past, turned the corner, and sure enough someone identified as a woman was in there. She gave me an embarrassed glance as she hurried out; I rolled my eyes as I continued to the urinal, without missing a single step. Women participating in marathons will sometimes “claim” men’s washrooms, due to a lack of facilities and their greater numbers in these events (at least around here, YMMV elsewhere). I know it happens, because I helped do it once; there were no complaints, no protests, no need for guards, everyone just got on with their business amid a few nervous giggles.

Every premise behind that TERF protest is either contrary to another premise they believe, or the best evidence available. As I’ve pointed out before, TERFs do not have a coherent theory of sex or gender; in contrast, feminists bend over backwards to establish coherency. This solves Siggy’s best argument.

On the flip side, there are also real pretenders to feminism. One of the best known examples is Christina Hoff Sommers, who identifies as a feminist, but who has been a conservative critic of feminism for her entire career. Sommers is one of several public figures who call themselves “equity feminists”, a term that, as far as I know, does not have any real history within feminism, and seems to have been invented by external critics.

So it seems we have a difficult task, finding a definition for feminism that includes TERFs, and yet excludes equity feminists. Ideally, the definition would also apply to feminists of the past and future.

No matter where you stand on Christina Hoff Sommers’ feminism, she has a more coherent theory of sex and gender than TERFs. That is a line of demarcation.

As just hinted at, Siggy’s other main argument is that feminism has historically been quite transphobic. Fair enough, in fact at one point a significant number of feminists opposed any LGBT activism. But pointing out that this bigotry was once part of feminism does not demand that we continue to accept those bigots as feminists, any more than pointing out that astronomy was once astrology demands that we consider astrologers to be astronomers. Words and definitions can change over time. If the majority of contemporary feminists are bullish on LGBT rights, if the majority of them agree that gender identity is a fundamental right, then we can consider transphobic feminists to be anachronisms. To bring up another anecdote, I attended Calgary Pride and was heartened to see half the floats had “trans rights are human rights” or similar explicitly plastered on them. The lead float was trans-inclusive, too, which was welcome given the bullshit TERFs have pulled at Pride marches.

Given that very few feminists are TERFs, and even mainstream society has accepted that gender identity is a thing (on paper, anyway), counting TERFs as feminists muddies what “feminism” means, in my opinion. That may not be your opinion, and that’s cool! Whether we call TERFs bigots pretending to be feminists or bigoted feminists, we can all agree the stress should be on the “b.”


HJH 2018-09-10: Oh dear, I seem to have started something anyway. A small and insightful thing, thankfully. Read Crip Dyke’s posts, especially her second one as it has some good points to make about sexism. I mean, damn:

Sexism = Sex Prejudice + Enhanced Power of one sex relative to another

In the course of it all, though, I’m getting feedback from Siggy and others that suggests I could have done a better job in this post. The crux of it can be handled via a little copy-pasta.

Shoot, I should have explained this point a little better. I don’t argue that having a consistent definition is necessary for being a feminist, instead working towards a consistent definition is the key. You can see this quite clearly with Judith Butler:

Before Undoing Gender, Butler never addressed the T or the I (transgender and intersex) in GLBTQI in any sustained way. In turning her gaze toward what is unthinkable even for many gays and lesbians, Butler has continued to push against the boundaries of the field she had a large part in creating. Undoing Gender constitutes a thoughtful and provocative response to the new gender politics and elegantly employs psychoanalysis, philosophy, feminism, and queer theory in an effort to pry open the future of the human.

Zavaletta, Atticus Schoch. “Undoing Gender.” The Comparatist 29.1 (2005): 152-153.

Compare and contrast with this with TERFs. Confronted with evidence that their definition of “sex” is too simplistic, they discard the evidence rather than update the definition. Bigotry takes precedence over consistency, and we can exploit that to draw a dividing line.

The worst of it seems to flow from that misunderstanding, at least so far.

A Worthy Challenge

I’ve been grinding my gears a bit. The topics in my queue are pretty heavy, and desperately need some levity to balance them out. Unfortunately, the lightest things I can blog about aren’t ready or appropriate for the blog. So I’m at a loss for what to write about.

Thankfully, Nate Hevenstone has come to my rescue. In a series of three posts, he lays out a bit of history behind “intelligence” …

What’s interesting is that the test was not designed to measure intelligence. It was actually designed to find out which children needed extra help in school, because of what Binet called “developmental delay”. It was Terman, in his revision, that changed the Binet-Simon Test from a means of discovering children who need help to a means of classifying humans into “intelligence categories”.

… and starts explaining why “stupid” is an ableist slur, something he continues in the second and then expands to other words …

Ultimately, “stupid” is a word that can easily be replaced with so many other words. It’s one of those words where, even if you remove the fact that it’s an ableist slur, it’s entirely superfluous. It serves no purpose since it really doesn’t elucidate… well… anything.

… and finally offers some alternatives in the third, and issues a challenge.

For just one month, stop using “stupid”, “moron”, “idiot”, “dense”, “crazy”, “insane”, and similar words, and stop using the diagnostic names of actual conditions (“deaf”, “dumb”, “blind”, “autistic”, “schizophrenic”, “sociopathic”, “bi-polar”, etc) as slurs, as well.

I’m game! In fact, I’ve done this before: for years now, I’ve challenged myself not to assume people’s pronouns. I was pretty hardcore about this at first, insisting on “they” unless I could track down a place where the person in question flagged their pronouns. They only time I found it annoying was when discussing abortion, but the benefits of inclusive language more than outweigh any discomfort. I also enjoyed the challenge, English really loves to mix gender and pregnancy.

In fact, I might be a little too game. After some searching, I can only find myself using “stupid” either in Proof of God, which I stopped writing in 2013, or buried at the end of a repost from Sinmantyx that dates from 2015. While I have used intelligence as an insult, you can also find me acknowledging that’s not cool.

Ah well, there’s no harm in being extra mindful, and it’s a good excuse to up my pronoun challenge. Are you gonna join in, too?

Dispatches From Enlightenment Now: Sweatshop Feminism

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

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

[Read more…]

This Could Get Me Interested In Sports

South Korea has been a powerhouse in eSports. They’ve been running StarCraft tournaments since 2002, handed out most of the prize money, and as a consequence dominate the player rankings.

While distracting myself from a blog post, a video of a February 2018 StarCraft II caught my eye: a top South Korea player was playing… a Canadian woman? Huh? This sounded historic, so I tuned in to parts one and two, intending to keep it in the background while tapping away.

It pretty soon became the foreground. No spoilers for how the tournament turned out (the announcers totally sell it, anyway), but it was indeed a historic set of games. Non-Korean players rarely make it to the finals of a world championship, this tourney was a preview for eSports joining the Winter Olympics, and… I may not be much of a StarCraft player, but it looked like a damn fine round. Once you’re ready to be spoiled, no less than Rolling Stone explains several other ways those games were amazing.

Something for the Reading List

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

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

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

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

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

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