Posts Tagged ‘Respect’

There is a recently published article on Scientific American, “Are Men the Weaker Sex?” This article has been getting a good deal of attention in my Facebook feed. From the article:

Contrary to cultural assumptions that boys are stronger and sturdier, basic biological weaknesses are built into the male of our species. These frailties leave them more vulnerable than girls to life’s hazards, including environmental pollutants such as insecticides, lead and plasticizers (Source)

I agree with many of the things in this article, but I find it a little hard to read. It seems to be doing something similar to what Emily Martin identifies in “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Created a Romance Based on Stereotypical Gender Roles.”

The article is full of normative comparisons of non-normative developmental events. For example, it says that the male foetal development is “more complicated” and that

In our species, the female is the default gender, the basic simpler model: Humans start out in the womb with female features (that’s why males have nipples).

Fair enough that ‘female’ is default, but does that necessarily imply “simpler?” Sure males have nipples as a result of vestigial similarities, but also (according to Elisabeth Lloyd) women have clitorises and orgasms as a developmental vestige of male reproductive function.

The article states:

The simpler female reproductive system has to turn into the more complex male reproductive tract, developing tissues such as the testis and prostate.

But is that empirically true that the male reproductive tract is “more complex”? Each seems to have their own unique complexities.

The whole thing kind of strikes me as a bit creepy. Can’t we acknowledge differences without trying to rank them as “more complex, “more advanced,” “simpler,” or “more basic?”

In fact, women and men evolve at the exact same rate. That is what sexual recombination is all about. One is not more simple or more basic and the other more complex or more advanced. This seems all kinds of distorted.

I am emphatically not saying that we should not look at particular vulnerabilities that men might face. I think we should. In addition, we should also look at particular vulnerabilities that women might face. I just don’t see why in doing so we have to rank these differences.

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This is not really a post, as much as a collection of links. Usually I try to write some thoughts, but today I am deep in marking. Nevertheless, I wanted to provide some links to help counter the media silence around the Idle No More movement. On December 10, 2012, a number of Canada’s First Nations came together around the country to protest the legislative changes Harper is making to the Indian Act and the erosion of environmental protections (among other things). The Indian Act has always been a racist and terrible piece of legislation (for example, this legislation served as the template for South African apartheid), but these changes are making things worse, not better.

Link Round-Up

Idle No More’s Website and Blog, which includes their manifesto describing the reason behind the protests.

Anishinaabewiziwin “Everyday Cry: Feeling Through Ogitchidaakwe’s Hunger Strike” by Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy. December 27, 2012. This is a great piece. I think everyone should read it. It moved me to tears.

Zig Zag Warrior “Idle No More? Speak for Yourself…Warrior Publications December 12, 2012. A critical perspective on the protests.

âpihtawikosisân “The natives are restless. Wondering why?” âpihtawikosisân December 11, 2012.

Trevor Greyeyes “Keep up the Pressure with Idle No MoreThe First Perspective December 11, 2012.

Andrew Loewen “Idle No More & Settler-Colonial Canada” The Paltry Sapians December 11, 2012. (lots of pictures and videos of the Edmonton march at this link)

Nora Loreto “Idle No More: Non-Indigenous responsibility to actRabble.ca December 10, 2012.
IDLE NO MORE: CANADA’S FIRST PEOPLES ARE RISINGIndigenousRising December 10, 2012.

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On Having it All

woman juggling to "Have it all"

This woman “has it all” and it doesn’t look like very much fun. And oh, hey, where’s dad?

I am really not sure why the inability to have it all is supposed to be some kind of strike against feminism. I don’t think feminism ever suggested that women could “have it all,” or should desire to “have it all” (whatever that even means). But some people seem to think that because women have to choose between being high-powered career-oriented persons and being full-time parents, this somehow means that feminism betrayed women and we should return to the old ways with a male bread-winner and a female stay-at-home partner. But here it might be worth noting that if the goal is to “have it all” the old way is no better than the straw-feminist way, because the “traditional 1950s family” still does not involve a woman who “has it all.” Instead, it merely results in women who don’t have it all and also cannot choose which way they would like to have it.

We should admit that the situation is completely unlike the one described by Venker in her terrible “The War on Men” piece for Fox news, and it is also completely unlike her “apology” for that piece:

Rather, Venker said, it is that, “women, once they have children would prefer to work part-time or not at all when their children are young. Their career trajectory will be different than that of men. Feminists don’t like that. They want everybody to want the same thing, career trajectories to be the same. Women may say I really want to exercise or hang out with my friends and have coffee or go shopping and have a cushier life, and your guy will be happy to do that, and go to the office all year long for 40 years to allow you to do that. Men don’t have that option. And there is nothing wrong with having different road maps.” (Source: The Daily Beast)

Actually, feminists have never claimed that everyone should want the same things. That is precisely why feminists have argued that women should be able to choose whether they want careers rather than being forced to be a stay-at-home parent, though feminists also accept that women should be able to choose to be a full-time parent if that is possible for them and what they desire. It is Venker who is making essentialist and universalizing statements about what “women” want once they have children. Venker also completely ignores that many men also want to be home with their children. She says that “Men don’t have that option” to stay home. But feminism has precisely been arguing that both sexes should have these options. Just as feminists think women should be allowed to choose work, so too, they think men should be able to choose to stay at home, if that is what suits them. It is Venker, not feminists, who are limiting what people are supposed to want.

Then, to make matters worse, Venker paints an unrealistic portrait of what it is like to be a stay-at-home parent. It seems, on her world-view that stay-at-home mothers spend their time exercising, hanging out with friends, shopping and having coffee, a “cushier” life, as she describes it. Venker thinks that a man will be happy to work in order to allow his wife this “cushy” life. But many stay-at-home moms describe their days as difficult and full of work (laundry, getting the kids from here to there, feeding the kids, etc. etc.) it is precisely this stereotype of the stay-at-home life as “cushy” that often feeds resentment among both spouses: among men because they see their life as full of toil and placating bosses in order to afford their wives this “cushy” life, and among women because they resent that their husbands see their lives as “cushy” when in fact it is full of nearly-unrelenting Sisyphean work (work that once done, must then be redone). And let us not forget that the working world can also involve its fair share of “cushy” activities if one is in the upper-classes. It is true that blue-collar jobs are not so cushy, but as someone who works full-time in a upper-middle-class job, I can tell you that a fair amount of my time is spent having coffee-or-dinner-or-lunch-meetings, exercising with friends (if golf counts as exercise) and so forth.

We should admit that no one can have it all. Both mothers and fathers often want to spend more time with their families and less time at work. So what needs to change is work expectations. We could, for example, divide some jobs among more people to make those jobs more flexible. But we should dispense entirely with the myth that feminism falsely promised women they could have it all, when having it all was really what the traditional family offered women. Neither feminism nor the traditional family offers anyone the chance to have it all.

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In any given news cycle there is likely to be a story about someone who said something or told some joke that is described as “offending” some persons. Earlier this summer there was the “rape joke” told by Daniel Tosh. This week Pam Palmater wrote about a racist joke in an Royal Canadian Legion newsletter.

Usually after such occasions the person or organization issues an apology “for offendingthe group or individual in question (or in the case Palmater describes, fails to apologize at all since “only one” person was offended).

I'm Sorry

I’m Sorry

In fact, this response is so common that Wikipedia even has an entry on it titled “The Non-Apology.” The Wikipedia article focus mainly on the apology as lacking the requisite contrition or admission that something was wrong. I think that is right, but I also want to focus on something else: the “I’m sorry I offended you” line misses one important target group for the apology.

You see, I am not so worried about those who were “offended.” Sure, it sucks to have to live in a culture that is basically a mine field waiting to explode with “humour” that reinforces one’s lesser status. But at least those who were offended recognize what was wrong with the statement. I am also worried (perhaps more worried) about those who were not offended.  As Palmater writes:

 Racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada is so ingrained that some in society can’t even identify it when they see it. (Source)

Those in the group who were not offended are the ones who really concern me because they are so blind to racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. that they were not even able to be offended by the alleged humour. So in addition to apologizing to those groups who were “offended” by the racist/sexist/etc. “joke” I think there should also be an apology to those who were not offended.

Perhaps something along the lines of:

I am sorry my hackneyed attempt at humour reinforced ideas of racial (gender, class, etc.) superiority among those who were not offended by the alleged “joke.” I am sorry that what I said perpetuated and reinforced your privileged blindness to the racism (sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc.) so prevalent in this society…

Because in addition to hurting those who are offended and reinforcing their lesser status in a given culture, such “jokes” also have the harmful effect of reinforcing arrogance and ignorance among those who failed to see what was wrong with the “offensive” “joke” in the first place.


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An Origami Heart folded from a US one dollar bill

An Origami Heart folded from a US one dollar bill

I find it very bizarre that during a time of economic upheaval the Globe and Mail is running a series on “Giving.” Is Charity the answer to our economic woes? Some seem to suggest that it might be. For example, Ed Clark, CEO of TD bank (whose salary rose by 9% last year, while inflation is at 3% according to the consumer price index) said:

“We live in a market economy,” which means that paying executives less than the market rate will make it hard to attract the cream of the crop, he [Clark] said.

“Personally what I’ve always said is… what you do with your pay matters. You can solve this problem on how you behave personally in terms of charitable donations and things like that, and try to reconcile that dilemma.” (Source).

Clark believes the problem of CEO pay would be difficult to address directly (by lowering or limiting it), or we would not be able to attract “the cream.”[1] So the solution is for CEOs to act charitably.[2] Again, a similar refrain to the Globe section, I linked to above.

This suggestion seems problematic to me. There is a moral difference between equality achieved through rights (as a matter of what we are owed as persons) and equality achieved through charity (as a matter of the beneficence of others). Immanuel Kant discusses the danger that charity poses to the self-respect and dignity of the recipient in The Metaphysics of Morals.  Although I have some quibbles with Kant’s discussion in these sections, I think it is right in the broad outlines.


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Protesters on the Bridge

Protesters on the Bridge

This is the second post in a series of posts I am writing in response to some inane commentary about #OccupyWallStreet. I am beginning with a response to Sally Kohn’s Piece “Follow No Leader” but will add to the discussion as I read more inane commentary from journalists who seem content to point out their own incompetence and call this “reporting.” I am not singling out Kohn’s piece because I think she is incompetent and other journalists are competent. Instead, I chose her piece as representative of a genre.

I don’t see this post as a defense of the movement as much as it is a criticism of journalism.

The sections I examine are as follows:

1. I Demand One Demand

2. Leaderless Clearly Means Pointless (This post)

3. They are Middle Class the Hypocrites!

4. Those “Smelly”  “Jobless” Hippies Should Just Try Harder if They Want to Succeed

5. Focus on What They are Wearing

6. Are Journalists Simply Incompetent?

Bibliography:  Link Round-Up of Decent Places to Follow the Protest

In the first post, I argued that the demand for one demand is forgetful of history. Once we recognize an injustice it is easy to identify that injustice as the demand (in retrospect). But at the time an awareness of a new form of injustice is developing the sense of outrage is usually amorphous, because we don’t yet have words or concepts to name that injustice. Usually there are a series of smaller demands that only later seem to be related to a single goal. “I have a dream” that we will be taken to “the promised land” is not exactly a specific demand. In retrospect, once we have a name for the injustice we can see how the “disparate” demands are actually “one demand.” But that only happens over time.

In this post I want to look at the criticism in the mainstream media that seems to say that if there is no leader, then the movement cannot have any point. Once again, this criticism was raised in response to the G20 protests in Toronto, but once again, all it does is point to journalistic incompetence.

2. Leaderless Clearly Means Pointless

One of the main criticisms of the new kind of activism that eschews leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King is that without a leader the media cannot figure out what is going on, so clearly nothing is going on (they mistakenly conclude).

As was the case with the demand that there be one clear demand, this only shows that old-style media reporting cannot keep up with new-style activism. I agree with the journalists that it is probably more difficult to get a “sound bite” from a movement with no leader charged with producing such sound bites in their inspirational speeches.

I wrote before about why reducing arguments to sound bites in the media is harmful, but here is another shot. In philosophy we teach students that they must criticize the premises, or the connection between the premises and the conclusion. They may not just attack the conclusion. The reason we teach this is that if all one does is attack the conclusion one has “contradicted” the speaker, but one has not argued against the speaker. By reducing arguments to sound bites, as journalists have recently been doing, all we get in political discourse is contradiction. We don’t get any argument. If this seems confusing, watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ “Argument Clinic” sketch.

The complaint that there is no leader of the movement really boils down to a complaint that this makes the job of the journalist difficult in a way it used to be difficult before journalism gave up. If there is no leader, then journalists will have to research and think about possible reasons for a protest rather than reducing the argument to a “sound bite” which is even worse than reducing an argument to a conclusion.


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[Trigger Warning for non-consensual touching]

Normally I enjoy reading the Oatmeal, but this recent comic is full of problems.

The Oatmeal: Minor Differences: Part 2

"Minor Differences: Part 2" In the first panel we se a man hugging his "ladyfriend." She responds warmly. In the second panel, we see a man hugging his "manfriend." The man responds in shock and horror.

So, first of all the joke of the comic obviously relies on homophobia and assumed heterosexuality for it to be funny. We are supposed to realize that no heterosexual man would approach another man in this way.

It assumes heterosexuality because I would wager that homosexual male couples do approach each other in this way, and get the reaction the “ladyfriend” is giving in this comic (the only person whom I would allow to hug me from behind is my partner).

But the comic is also an assertion of male power over women. One of the manifestations of power is being able to access others in a variety of ways. Marilyn Frye writes in the chapter “Some Reflections on Separatism and Power” from The Politics of Reality:

Differences of power are always manifested in asymmetrical access… Total power is unconditional access; total powerlessness is being unconditionally accessible. The creation and manipulation of power is constituted of the manipulation and control of access.

Frye provides a number of examples of how power allows differential access, and we can think about how different kinds of power grant different kinds of access. For example, in business environments bosses have access to employee emails and can track employee activity online whereas employees do not have similar access to their bosses’ use of the internet.

In this comic, we see that the man has access to a woman physically and he expects her to react in a welcoming manner. When he tries the same method of gaining access to a man, however, he does not expect a warm welcoming reaction. So the man expects to have access to his “ladyfriends” in a way he does not expect to have access to his “manfriends.”

This is actually really troubling. There are many reasons that a person might not want to be “surprised” with “a hug from behind.” For many rape or assault survivors this could be really triggering. Even for those who have not experienced an assault, but nevertheless fear one, it could also be traumatic. Furthermore, reaching around to hug someone from behind puts the onus on them to reject your advances rather than taking on the responsibility of seeking consent to the activity.

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Re: Please refrain from writing “who cares?” “so what?” and other similar statements when grading student papers.

The writing centre gets busy at this time of year as the term draws to a close and essays and assignments are nearing their due date. Many students are coming in with earlier assignments to seek advice on improving their next assignment. A number of these assignments from a number of different disciplines have words such as “who cares?” written across the top of a page or in the margins of the assignment. This is poor marking practice for at least two reasons: 1. It is not an informative means for the marker to make their point. 2. It is really discouraging to students.

First, the point that I believe markers are trying to convey by these phrases is something like: “explain further…” “what are the implications of x for y?” “What do you mean by x?” “why is x important to your thesis?” and so forth. These points are precise and inform the student how to go on; that is, they offer information about what to improve for the student’s next paper. They give a well-specified means of identifying precisely which expectations of clear writing have not been met. In contrast, “so what?” or “who cares?” do not specify which elements of clear writing have been violated. A student who receives this latter annotation is not likely to understand how to improve their next paper. The great irony of writing “so what?” on a student paper is that the marker intends to convey to the student that the student has been insufficiently clear either in the description or in connecting the description to the thesis. But what the marker has written is itself unclear and imprecise. Do not model in your grading the very same writing characteristics you are trying to dissuade your students from using.

Second, students find comments such as “who cares?” and “so what?” to be very dismissive and insulting. These comments are discouraging because they do not offer instruction on how to improve the next time around, but they are also discouraging because they imply that the student’s point is unimportant or uninteresting. Rather than encouraging further development (as the comment, “explain further” would do), the comment “who cares?” discourages further development because the marker is conveying that no one would care about this point. The student is unlikely to interpret this phrase as an invitation to elaborate, and is instead more likely to interpret this phrase as a suggestion that the point should be erased. The marker intends the phrase to be asking for further elaboration, but the phrase in fact conveys the exact opposite: that no elaboration is needed because the point is unimportant (or worse, “stupid”).

Few students cry at the writing centre, but of those that do most of them have “so what?” or “who cares?” written somewhere on their paper. It is bad marking practice because it makes the marker recapitulate the very error they are asking students to avoid. And it is bad marking practice because it makes students feel like they are dumb and should give up on the subject. We can do better by students. Writing “who cares?” or “so what?” on a student paper is a lazy way of marking. “Explain” is just as concise and does a better job of informing students of their error.

Here are some phrases that markers can use in place of these terrible short-hand phrases:

  • More…
  • Omit
  • Explain
  • Explain further…
  • How do you know?
  • What is the connection?
  • What is your evidence?
  • What do you mean by x?
  • What is the reason for x?
  • Why is x important to your thesis?
  • What are the implications of x for y?

Another way to save ink and time is to make a marking code key and share this with the students:

  • RV = relevance?
  • EF = explain further
  • CS= comma splice

This method is even more concise than writing “So what?” but will also be more informative.

Related Reading

Wielding the Red Pen in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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[Trigger Warning: I am writing about rape again, and I will be snarky, sarcastic and otherwise more emotive in my writing than average]

If there is one thing that could be said for Penny Arcade’s handling of the criticisms of “The 6th Slave” comic, it is that they did begin a serious discussion of rape culture that is probably reaching a wider part of gaming culture than “ever before” (*hyperbole*). More non-feminist gamers are hearing this discussion than would ever hear of similar discussions of rape culture that occur in feminist gaming forums, on feminist gaming blogs, and non-gaming feminist blogs.

When I read the Debacle Timeline, I am struck by how many genuinely thoughtful posts have been created discussing the whole affair. Many of them don’t really seem to understand what feminists are trying to express by the concept of “rape culture,” but many of them do make an honest attempt. Some posts show serious reflection, and a change of mind. They also inspired the creation of Team Respect, who are pretty willing to patiently describe the aspects of rape culture to those asking about it at xkcd forums. It might be true that the debacle also started a flame-war in the blog comments, over e-mail and on twitter. But many of the actual blog posts linked through the Debacle Timeline are pretty thoughtful, for the most part.

Perhaps that is something good to come out of the whole affair. It is true many did not listen. But some did. Many have been saying they never considered such things before, and now they see differently. So congratulations to Kirby Bits for speaking her mind. And congratulations to Penny Arcade for bringing discussions of rape culture to a wider gaming audience. Too bad it had to happen in such an ugly way that probably hurt many rape victims and threatened many others along the way.


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This will be just a quick posts with some links to further reading.

Recently, the groups The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) released a survey “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey” about discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the United States. The Report abstract states:

Transgender and gender non-conforming people face rampant discrimination in every area of life: education, employment, family life, public accommodations, housing, health, police and jails, and ID documents…

Questioning Transphobia summarizes some of the findings:

  • Respondents were four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with incomes lower than $10,000
  • Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed
  • One in four reported being fired for their gender identity or expression
  • Half said they experienced harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace
  • One in five said they experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression
  • 19% said they had been refused a home or apartment
  • 19% said they had been refused health care
  • 31% reported harassment or bullying by teachers
  • 41% reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% for the general population

Similar statistics about discrimination apply to Canadians.

As Jill from Feministe writes:

Much of this discrimination, it’s worth noting, is entirely legal. Trans people are routinely left of out anti-discrimination laws that protect citizens from discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, nationality, etc.

In Canada, we have a chance to correct this problem. Bill C-389, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), is up for a vote in the House of Commons. The last vote was really close, passing by only 12 votes (Yeas: 143; Nays 131).

Bill C-389 is coming up for a final vote this Wednesday, February 9th. This time opponents of the bill have organized a letter-writing campaign to petition MPs to vote against the bill.

If you want to support the bill to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, there is an online letter writing campaign organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada. If any readers are from Canada and wish to support the bill, please consider sending a letter to your MP from the link above.

I will include links for further reading below the fold.


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