Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wolf Whistles, Cat Calls And The Gauntlet of Compliments

By now you may have watched this video:

Hollaback, an organization that wants to stamp out street harassment and intimidation (a.k.a. catcalls), produced a video in which it videotaped a young woman walking around Manhattan for 10 hours this past August. A hidden video camera was placed in the backpack of a man walking in front of her, catching every catcall, whistle, and even one persistent character who walked alongside the woman for five minutes.
The results are startling. According to Hollaback, there were over 100 instances of verbal harassment in that 10-hour walk, not including winks and whistles. In the video, the woman remains silent. She is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans.

The responses to the video range from one extreme to the other.  If you feel masochistic today, spend some time (which might feel like an eternity) reading the comments at the YouTube site (or probably the comments attached to any article about the video).  

I looked in, rather quickly, about four million views ago, and found the debate raging, with all the usual fronts covered:  Those who were shocked to find that this happens (including the new "of course I hate all feminists but" gang!), those who argued that the woman was rude in not responding to the compliments, those who wanted the video to be about hunger and war peace, those who stated that they were women and loved getting wolf whistles and compliments and of course large numbers of women who pointed out that this happens a lot and it gets pretty wearisome after a while.

I didn't come across the rape threats that supposedly were deleted from the YouTube site.  But then YouTube comments about anything having to do with women usually have something of that sort so they may not have registered in my hardened mind.

Two responses arguing back at the video stuck to my mind.  The first one was a comment in the long thread at the YouTube where someone asked how he was going to find pu**y if not by complimenting strangers  who are walking to work or to school or to the dentist or to the grocery store.  That one was funny.  I immediately imagined that the pu**y harvesting time is now and the way to harvest it is by approaching total strangers happening to be walking somewhere.

The second one is a tweet by a conservative:

That's a funny one because a) it assumes (rather than proves) that no woman walking alone in Victorian NYC would have been harassed (hah!  middle-and-upper class women were not supposed to go out alone ever, poorer women might have told about worse than harassment),  b) it offers women the choices of submission or harassment and, c) it hints at something rather nasty behind that veil of "enforced chivalry."

Then to the boring-but-necessary extra analysis: 

First, street harassment does vary by city and between countries and probably by the streets in individual cities.  It depends largely on local culture.  So what we see in the video may not apply to other places on this earth.  In some she might not have been addressed at all, in others she might have suffered much worse. 

Those cultural variations suggest that we can change street harassment.

Second, those cultural variations also mean that only some men engage in these practices.  That's worth pointing out.  What is going on in the sub-cultures which condone or support harassing behavior and how can it be changed.

Third, what about the idea that all the woman received, ultimately, were compliments (well, what with a little bit of gentle stalking).  What's so bad about getting compliments?  Why couldn't the b**ch thank for them or at least smile?

Sorry, that last sentence was influenced by a few of the comments I read.  More seriously, the statements in the video are a lot milder than some of the stuff I have experienced in my past.  Much milder.  But here's the dilemma one faces when receiving such compliments:

What to do next?  The person has not asked you if you want to talk or whatever, but has simply decreed that this exchange will now take place. 

And the only choice you have is how to respond.  If you smile or say thank you or even nod your head, will that person accelerate the attempt at a connection?  What then?  If you ignore the attempt, will you get by safely or will something worse follow?  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Approaches

And I noticed how glum I have been on the blog during the last few months, and if not glum then overly neutral.  The reason, my friends, is in the stars. *

Well, not in the stars as such, but partly in what's happening  (ISIL!  Ebola!  Climate Change!), partly in my own battle fatigue  (as in: "haven't I already written about this struggle some time during the last eleven years?", and: "did it make any f***ing difference at all?").   Yes, Virginia, sometimes I'm a pretty egoistic goddess, hoping that what I do matters more than a hill of beans in this crazy world.

To return the ball to the home plate (I'm trying to cram this post full of incomplete quotes, bad similes and so on), I can't think of anything to write about the politics of Halloween costumes that I haven't already written.
*And also "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall"  because I've been coping with some family health problems which are finally clearing.

Added later:  Something completely new for Halloween

It's About Ethics In Game Journalism. A Parable.

Some hardcore Gamergate supporters*  gathered for a party at a strip club.  Because the movement has been accused of sexism and misogyny, they made an effort to point out that ladies were present, and not just those ladies who offered lap dances or table dances for a fee, but female Gamergate supporters:

The 8channers gathered at the club moved their chairs into a ragged line and gawked for a few obligatory minutes as a compact Asian dancer extricated herself acrobatically from a fishnet body suit, before forming into tight-knit clusters around small round tables. They were overwhelmingly young white men in their early to mid 20s. An enormous bald man named Hans, an 8channer who had flown from Texas for the party, pointed out three women in attendance, two bona-fide female 8channers, and one girlfriend, a model and actress with a neat Suicide Girl look who was the only partygoer dressed more for the club than Comic Con. “Naturally, accusations of misogyny are thrown around, but as evidenced by the presence of women, of which there are a few, it is a diverse group.” Hans paused, then winked. “By the way, table dances are $10 and lap dances are $75, if you’re interested. May I recommend Ms. Rain?”

Suddenly Brennan zoomed into the apartment, sparking applause. Someone wheeled in a suitcase full of cheap booze to even more applause. A MacBook was set up to live-stream the party and Brennan posted a link from 8chan’s official Twitter account. He read a message from an 8chan user. “They said, ‘Where are the girls? You said there would be girls.'” Everyone laughed, and Sarah and Brooke waved at the camera.

Fascinating.  This story is a parable for the Gamergate, implicitly defining the rules for women's participation in a particular type of world.  The party is at a strip club, aimed to please heterosexual men with its services.  Girl gamers can be present, too!  But it must feel awkward for them.  A little like being an honorary chicken guest at the foxes' annual chicken dinner celebration.**

*This post gives a short summary of the issues.  Gamergaters argue that the movement is about ethics in gaming journalism, their critics argue that the movement looks to be largely about misogyny.  Data tends to support the latter rather than the former argument.

Oh, and the title is because there's an Internet meme using "it's about ethics in gaming journalism" applied to all sorts of utterly unrelated things, to demonstrate how unlikely it is as an explanation.

**There's much more to that story than the parable I pulled out.  We could peel the onion of ideas much deeper to try to understand why one of the gamers present felt this:

...but a skinny guy named Mike, who had flown out to California to help Brennan with the move, became increasingly agitated. SJWs were trying to take away one of his last bastions of freedom and he felt personally under attack. “They think everything we have is shit, and they want to change it!” he shouted. “This is all we’ve had — for years!”
I wish the writer of the article had asked Mike more questions about what he would want to have, in the meatspace world, and why certain aspects of the games are so important for him.  Is this about someone whom life has treated especially harshly?  Or is this about someone who would like the reality to be like the most misogynistic games out there?  How much is entitlement and how much is pain?   And why must a game be a certain way to be exciting for him?


Monday, October 27, 2014

On Ebola Panic And Bitches

Via ql at Eschaton, this CNN tweet about NJ Ebola quarantine got 37 responses:

Out of those 37 responses five used the term "bitch," as in "quit bitching bitch" or "fuck that bitch" or "no bitch youre a walking plague" or "she needs to relax holy shit it's one thing criticizing but now she's sounding like a bitch" or "it's bigger then u .... BITCH."

One tweet just stated "fucking women" and was favorited 43 times.

This example is interesting because it is about something where the hind-brain takes over and tells people to panic, especially if those people lack the necessary information.  And because it's the hind-brain, out comes that misogyny, in the sense that women should shut up.

But it's also crucial to understand that the tweet itself got favorited 900 times, that the responses above are a small minority and that we shouldn't draw inferences about the general population of Twitter users from those responses.  Nevertheless, anger and fear are clearly infused with sexism in this example.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Speed Posting 10/23/14: Hobby Lobby Goes to Guantanamo, Athletes Behaving Badly And Murder As The Logical Consequence of Romantic Pursuit

1.  This is probably the weirdest attempt to apply the Hobby Lobby decision to religious freedom:  A "high-value" Guantanamo detainee argues that his religious values are violated if female guards are allowed to touch him:

Bin Attash, a Yemeni, is a devout Muslim whose religious beliefs prohibit physical contact between unrelated men and women. But a new policy at Guantanamo's Camp 7, the top-secret facility that houses more than a dozen former CIA captives, now requires female guards to have physical contact with the high-value detainees when escorting them to meet with their attorneys. A detainee's wrists and ankles are shackled when he's moved; two guards stand on each side of him, holding his forearms.
I doubt that the Hobby Lobby decision would extend to Bin Attash (one of the alleged plotters of the 911 massacres).  But the very idea that he could argue so is nightmarish.  For instance, all three large Abrahamic religions include texts which suggest that women should never give orders to men.  Imagine a man arguing that his religious rights are violated because his teacher or his boss is a woman.

The whole Hobby Lobby case shows us what might happen when someone's "religious rights" are determined to require fewer  rights for other people.

2.  Florida State quarterback (a talented college football player for those of you who are not in the US) Jameis Wilson has been in recent newsFirst he yelled "F*** her right in the p****" (how the asterisks are yelled I do not know) on top of a table in the middle of the Florida State campus.  Then I read that he is facing a disciplinary hearing into charges that he sexually assaulted another Florida State student in 2012.*

This story reminds me of the British case of Ched Evans in the sense that the two men are  much valued by their respective sports, and some sportswriters turn into pretzels trying to separate the "ethical dilemmas" from just being allowed to root for the players of their choice without any insomnia.  I grant that this problem is a real one.  But most ordinary people don't get to pursue a wonderful career after a prison stay.

Then there's the sentence of Oscar Pistorius, a famous disabled athlete in South Africa who put several bullets into his girlfriend,  Reeva Steenkamp, killing her dead.  Pistorius has been given five years in prison for that, though he may serve only ten months of that in prison and the rest under house arrest.  As Pistorius' father stated:

“This has been an incredibly hard and painful process for everyone involved"
Not for Reeva Steenkamp, though, as she no longer exists.

3.  Finally, from the "Worst Headlines Ever" folder, this:
Romantic pursuit may have sparked murder-suicide near Houston hospital
So.  And it's not just the headline:

The suspect, identified as a 58-year-old male, walked up behind the female coworker and shot her several times before turning the gun on himself in an outpatient pharmacy near Ben Taub General Hospital, according to Houston police spokesman John Cannon.

Cannon told the Los Angeles Times that at least seven other employees heard the gunshots, and several colleagues told police that the suspect may have been trying to "enhance" a relationship with the female victim.
“Some of the employees are telling us in recent days the suspect had been trying to further a relationship with her. … That’s the only possible motive we are working on right now," Cannon said in a phone interview.
 If you can't "enhance" the relationship, just shoot her, I guess.  I don't know about you, but my idea of "romance" doesn't include stalking people or killing them dead if they spurn your advances.

*It's worth noting that after the "F*** her right in the p**** comment Wilson apologized to the university, the coaches and his team.  He then apologized again to his teammates, quoting his selfishness as the reason why he yelled what he did.  Can you spot the people he didn't address in his apology at all?


That Pew Online Harassment Survey

Suggests that lots of people have been harassed online:

Forty percent of American adult Internet users say they’ve been harassed online, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which found the harassment is often by strangers on social-networking sites.
More than half of those who experienced online harassment did not know the person involved in the most recent incident of harassment. Some 38% said a stranger was responsible while 26% said they didn’t know the real identity of the people involved. Two-thirds of those who experienced harassment said the incident occurred on a social networking site or app.
What does the survey mean by harassment?  It didn't define harassment but
... asked respondents if they had witnessed or been subject to six behaviors: offensive names, physical threats, harassment for a sustained period, stalking, purposeful embarrassment and sexual harassment.
Because studies of online harassment are still in baby diapers all the surveys I've seen have various types of problems.  For example, this survey might classify vastly different levels of nastiness into the same group.

Take calling someone names.  That could cover labels such as "stupid," "c**t, "n***er" and "fa**ot."  The anger reflected in those is of a different nature.  The last three are class slurs, the first one probably isn't.

And what does purposeful embarrassment mean?

All this matters when the next stage compares percentages of people experiencing online harassment.

Another aspect which matters is how to control for the types of sites people visit.  Some of the finding that young people are especially likely to be harassed may be because of the types of sites they visit.  And yes, I get that the sites we visit are partly our own choices and not extraneous determinants of the level of harassment.

All this means that I'd take the most recent Pew survey with a dose of salt.  Still, it's probably true that the group which faces the highest level of online harassment consists of young women.  From the survey summary:

Online harassment is especially pronounced at the intersection of gender and youth: women ages 18-24 are more likely than others to experience some of the more severe forms of harassment. They are particularly likely to report being stalking online (26% said so) and sexually harassed (25%). In addition, they are also the targets of other forms of severe harassment like physical threats (23%) and sustained harassment (18%) at rates similar to their male peers (26% of whom have been physically threatened and 16% of whom have been the victim of sustained harassment). In essence, young women are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment, while also not escaping the high rates of other types of harassment common to young people in general.
Other differences the survey found were between black and Latino users on the one hand and white user on the other:  The former were more likely to report having experienced harassment.  This suggests that the intersection effect for young black women and Latinas might be quite high.

I would like to see an online harassment survey which more carefully separates harassment by acquaintances from harassment by strangers and which also looks at the reason the harassment happens in a different way.

To explain the latter by an example:  It matters quite a bit if I'm harassed by a stranger because I wrote something controversial or even nasty or just because the harasser decides that I am female (insert here any other group category of the same type)  and therefore obvious prey for harassment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More Men Are Raped in US Than Women?

You may have come across that assertion before if you have the habit of visiting MRA sites on the net.  I've seen it, but never found any sources for it, except for fuzzy hints that it's because of prison rape of men is not included in the general rape statistics.

But the Gamergate led me to the tweets of one of its avid supporters, and the  result is that one of this gentleman's earlier tweets provided me with a source for the view that men are raped more often than women in this country.

The link he so kindly provided is from October 2013 Daily MailThe crucial bit is at the very beginning of the story:

More men are raped in the U.S. than woman, according to figures that include sexual abuse in prisons.
In 2008, it was estimated 216,000 inmates were sexually assaulted while serving time, according to the Department of Justice figures. 

That is compared to 90,479 rape cases outside of prison.

Let's look at those figures.  First, a caveat:  It's possible that there are other sources which support the view that more men than women are raped in the United States (though I doubt that). All I try to do in this post is to analyze one particular source, the Daily Mail one.   Second, it's crucial to note that prison rape is horrible, that men, indeed, can be the victims of rape and that all rape victims deserve our concern and support. But we can do that with actual data, right?

To see what drives that paragraph above, note the following three criticisms:

1.  It compares "sexual assault" with "rape" by giving us numbers about the former for prison and jail inmates while quoting some undefined source on the latter for the general non-institutional population.  Sexual assault in the prison study the Daily Mail article refers to includes not only rape and attempted rape but any kind of unwanted sexual touching. 
The concept of rape does not include that third category.  Whether it includes attempted rape depends on where that 90,479 figure comes from.  Thus, the above paragraph compares apples to oranges in the sense of the acts included under the categories of rape and sexual assault.  The latter is a much wider category.

2.  It's difficult to determine from that paragraph the source of the rape counts for the non-institutional population.  Sexual assault statistics tend to come from two sources:  one consists of reports to the police or other authorities, the other consists of self-reporting by random individuals in the community.  The former gives much lower rates of rape and other forms of sexual violence, partly because many forms of sexual violence are never reported to anybody.

The prison and jail data in this case comes from the latter kind of study:  self-assessment by the inmates.  We should compare that data to similarly created data from the general population, not to reported rates of rape. 
I searched for roughly comparable figures for 2008 and found the following:

The total number of sexual assault victims in the non-institutionalized population was 203,850.  The share of female victims was 164,240 and the share of male victims 39,590.

The figure given in the Daily Mail article for rape (90,479)  is not the correct measure for the comparisons the article attempts to make.  For women that would be 164,240 if we compare sexual assault figures*.  Note that you should not now run to compare that figure with the prison-and-jail victimization figure of 216,000.  That's because of the next criticism:
3.  The study the Daily Mail article  relies on  covers BOTH male and female inmates in US prisons and jails.  It's wrong to assume that all the 216,000 inmates reporting sexual assault in 2008 were men.  The quoted 90,479 figure for general rape rates may also include male victims.  But in any case the comparisons become muddled when female victims in prisons and jails are put into the male victim category.  This is how:

The 2008 prison-and-jail sexual victimization survey tells us that 4.4% of all prison and jail inmates reported being the victim of sexual assault that year.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find such overall figures separately for female and male inmates.  The study does give us data by the gender of the inmate but it's split into categories by the identity of the offender:  either other inmate/inmates or prison or jail staff.  Some inmates reported having been assaulted by both other inmates and the staff.
 If we assume that the last category is the same, percentage-wise, for men and women victims, then my rough calculations suggest that 4.3% of adult men in prisons and 3.0% of adult men in jails were the victims of assault that year.  Compare that with 6.3% of adult women in prisons and 4.2% of adult women in jails who reported that they were the victims of assault that year.

Here's where I began truly questioning the original statement that more men than women are raped in the US.  Now, the original data in the Daily Mail article doesn't compare rape with rape, in any case, but looking at the last set of figures it's  clear that the overall victimization rates are higher for female inmates than for male inmates.

In 2008, the general percentages of sexual assault per 1000 non-institutionalized persons over the age of 12 in the US were 0.3% for men and 1.3% for women.  However hard I try, I cannot make the magnitude ranking of those percentages flip by adding that prison-and-jail data with proper population weights. Because the female victimization rate inside prisons and jails is still higher than the male victimization rates.

Looking at the population inside prisons and jails does decrease the overall difference between female and male sexual assault victimization rates. That's because the male population of prisons and jails is much higher than the female population and because sexual assault is much more common in those institutional settings than in the general population.

But it doesn't flip the percentages.  The Daily Mail article is wrong: Self-reported rates of sexual assault are still considerably higher for women than for men.

The point of this post?  It's always good to know what the data actually tells us.  With the general warning that we should be careful about comparing disparate data sets, collected in different ways, it's pretty safe to believe that more women than men are raped in the United States. 

*It's impossible to know if the general population survey questions are exactly comparable to the survey questions the inmates answered or if the possible response biases are the same in the two cases.  All the comparisons should be treated with care for that reason.

To give you an example, one of the sources of the Daily Mail article also addresses the sexual victimization in juvenile facilities in 2011-2012.  The rates of reported sexual assault by other inmates in those facilities were 5.4% for female inmates and 2.2% for male inmates.  The rates of reported sexual assault by staff in those facilities were 8.2% for male inmates and 2.8% for female inmates.

These figures define sexual assault or sexual misconduct by staff as including contact initiated by the inmate or contact without any coercion.  The data on female and male inmates together tells us that 3.5% of the respondents reported forced or coerced sexual contact with staff, 4.7% reported sexual contact with staff without any coercion, force or threat.

The latter type of sexual contact amounts to the abuse of authority by the staff.  But sexual contact of this type is not counted in the sexual assault statistics of the general non-institutionalized population.  If it were, any apparently voluntary sexual contact between the young and authority figures should be included.

Even if we decided to include non-coerced sexual contact with the staff of juvenile facilities in the "prison rape" category, the overall statistics on sexual assault by gender would not flip in magnitude rankings, because the number of juveniles in these facilities is so small.

Added later:  Jill Filipovich wrote about similar issues in 2012

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Mice and Men. Another Weird Research Popularization

This one, from the UK Independent (though extensively available elsewhere, too), with the title:

Man flu is real: Scientists say men have weaker immune systems

And this picture:

  We are told that women have stronger immune systems than men.  We are then told that a study has shown this.  We then find out that it's mouse women who seem to have stronger immune systems than mouse men,  at least against the bacteria streptococcus pneumoniae:

Scientists from Harvard University have discovered that the female sex hormone oestrogen fortifies the immune system, and men are suffering for its absence.
In the study, published in Life Sciences medical journal, a simple dose of oestrogen was capable of curing both male and female mice of bacterial pneumonia.
Bolds are mine.

I know the arguments used to justify rodent studies as possibly applicable to humans.  But there's a pretty large leap from mice to men, and there's always the very real possibility that a similar study done, say, on rats, wouldn't have found the same results.

Or perhaps it would have.  But if it hadn't  it wouldn't have been popularized.

Popularizations which take rodent data and treat it as if it was data on humans are not uncommon when it comes to female rodents and women.  Indeed, those studies have been used to lecture women on ethically correct behavior.  I haven't spotted many popularizations which equate men with male mice and then try to teach men how to behave better*.   I wish we didn't do that crap for either gender.
*The one exception I recall is this.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What Made Women Scarce in Computer Science Courses in the US?

 This NPR program is worth listening to.  It tries to find what happened around 1984 to cause the anomalous drop in the graph below for women in computer science:

I'm sure other explanations are possible, but the one that program uses is a pretty credible one.  It consists of  looking at a particular time when computers became coded "male," a time when it first mattered that women and men beginning computer study courses at colleges had not had the same exposure to home computers. 

Before that date most people had not had that exposure.  After that date men were more likely to have had it*, and as practice matters, men then looked more competent in the introductory courses (which made more women consider themselves unsuitable for computer science).  The reasons for the exposure difference is discussed in the program, but mostly it had to do with the societal coding of computing as male through advertisements, popular movies and so on. 

Once that happened, that more female students dropped out of the computer science programs, that the programs became more male, those things would reinforce the initial gender coding and the cycle would then perpetuate itself.  To find out how to break that cycle, listen to the program.

All this is interesting when trying to understand the problems women have in the IT industry.  The change is fairly recent, after all.  It's only thirty years since 37% of computer science graduates were women.  Now that percentage is eighteen.  But we regard the field as belonging to male geeks and nerds, as if that was based on eternal biological gender differences.
*The program does talk about access to computers by girls and boys during that era.  It's likely that parents carried out some of the gender coding.  It's not easy to figure out what happened.  But some data suggests that boys' toys are more expensive than girls' toys.  That could have made parents more hesitant to buy a computer for a daughter than a son.  But it's also possible that girls didn't ask for personal computers, for whatever reason.