Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Blowing Smoke

"Progressive" or otherwise touted to be clever media outlets pushing concern is not a new phenomenon. As we know, NPR is great at this sort of thing.

It is just disappointing every time it happens.

One occurrences of late of this was a few items in Charles M Blow's piece for the New York Times, titled "Yes, All Men".

Let's just roll out the numbers and facts directly from his article: (Assume US if not specified)

  • Intimate partner violence - 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. However, some national violence studies show that up to 70 percent of women have at some point experienced violence from an intimate partner.
  • Percentage of murders due to intimate partner violence - Violence by intimate partners accounts for between 40 percent and 70 percent of all murders of women.
  • Child Brides - 64 million girls worldwide are child brides; 46 percent of women ages 20 to 24 in South Asia and 41 percent in West and Central Africa report that they married before the age of 18. 
  • FGM - 140 million girls and women in the world have suffered female genital mutilation/cutting. 
  • Sexual harassment in schools - 83 percent of girls 12 to 16 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • Higher HIV transmission risk - Women are already two to four times more likely than men to become infected with H.I.V. during intercourse.
  • Nonconsensual sex is injurious - Rape increases the risks because of limited condom use and physical injuries.
  • Percentage of HIV infections due to intimate partner violence - Percentage of 11.8 percent of new H.I.V. infections in the previous year among women 20 or older were attributed to intimate-partner violence.

Let's look at these items again, but let's bucket them first:

Serious issues:

  • Intimate partner violence
  • Sexual harassment in schools
Serious issues relying on Islam or similarly backwards cultures for life:
  • Child Brides 
  • FGM 
Grisly reminders of awful realities that greatly impact women:
  • Higher HIV transmission risk
  • Nonconsensual sex is injurious
Statistical bullshit:
  • Percentage of murders due to intimate partner violence
  • Percentage of HIV infections due to intimate partner violence
Let's focus on the last two just to see where we go wrong when talking up feminism "by the numbers".

Nonsense Percentages

The two datapoints touted are thus - the percentage of deaths and  the percentage of infections of women that are due to intimate partner violence.

The problem is, what should these percentages be?

The perpetrators of 35% to 70% of all murders of women are current or former partners. Is this number alone supposed to be alarming? 

Given that in a given year some number of women will be murdered, what percentage of murders should be the blame of a perfect stranger

Switching to HIV infections, let's assume that a woman will contract HIV this year. According to the data, 12% of infections are due to intimate partner violence. But let's look at the big picture.

The potential causes of new infection for an adult woman:
  • A blood transfusion
  • An ignorant partner
  • Sharing needles
  • A malicious partner (rape or other intentional infection - intimate partner violence)
  • A malicious stranger (rape or other intentional infection)
  • Other causes
Having no control over the absolute number of infected, what cause or causes would should make up the majority of infections? Are we hoping that ignorance and neglect always eclipses the purposefully evil?

It may sound strange, but it may be the world we should hope to live in would be one where from the perspective of percentages, intimate partner violence would make up the vast majority of all violent assault and murder.

Imagine two worlds - one where most violent assault is caused by jealous partners enacting a sadistic revenge, and the other that is more prone for motives to be more frequently aligned with paltry sums of money, boredom or randomly directed madness. Which is actually preferable?

Rounded out reasoning

Near the conclusion of the article, Blow writes:
“The U.S. has a larger gender gap than 22 other countries including Germany, Ireland, Nicaragua and Cuba, according to a World Economic Forum report ... [that] rates 136 countries on gender equality, and factors in four categories: economic opportunity, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.”
The CNN piece covers the article:
Why wasn't the U.S. even close to the top? While the country scores high on economic opportunity and education for women, it scores poorly on political empowerment.
Yes, Cuba apparently scored higher than the United States in a rating that included political empowerment.

How is political empowerment scored?

Seemingly only by checking the genitals of politicians. The United States actually wouldn't have scored as high as it did if people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and Susana Martínez did not exist. Which is rather humorous as there is surely a New York Times columnist that would say that these three politicians do not represent women. Where is Maureen Dowd when you need her?

Back to the subject at hand - the report.

What Blow leaves out is that the only G8 countries that managed to score higher than the United States are Canada and Germany. This matters a great deal more than scoring worse than South Africa, Lesotho and Nicaragua. Those that tuned in for a look at "everyday" statistics already know that the "gender equality" of these countries loses some of its meaning after considering the frequency of the murder of women.

Blow also ignores that countries with "progressive" policies like longer maternity leave often have a larger gender wage gap.

Blow again quotes his son:
"It’s very important for everyone to be a feminist."

Now, what else is important?

Sunday, June 1, 2014


There is another statistic floating around.

How many women are killed by a specific group of people over a specific time period.

Let's add some context to these numbers.

First, a direct comparison of gender violence - in South Africa, 3 women every day are killed.

Which may not seem high, until one understands that South Africa is only about a fifth of the total population of the United States.

Another statistic - 18 black males are killed every day  ("Black males accounted for about 52% (or 6,800) of the nearly 13,000 male homicide victims in 2005")

There are 90 suicides a day (70 of them men)

And about 22 veterans commit suicide every day. (Men and women)

What's this all mean?

Does it mean we should not be concerned about the three women that will be killed tomorrow by their current or former partners?

No, it simply means we need to understand why people feel the "three a day" statistic is particularly alarming. The number itself is a pointless measure. It could be one per day, it could be ten a day. Most people would at all notice large changes in this statistic.

What men and women do see when they mention this statistic is not really any substantive claim of what these numbers ought to be, but how their own interactions with others have the potential to escalate to injury or death.

The statistics are not false, just a reflection of one's focus and state of mind. What is lost in this "per day" statistic is what is actually "everyday".

What is everyday is abuse of all forms - verbal, physical and emotional abuse.

What is everyday is distress of all forms - fear, hatred, regret, paranoia.

This perspective - violence born out of misogynistic hatred is ignored everyday. Male entitlement and sexual dominance is excused or condoned everyday through daily cat calls, butt slaps and suggestive humor.

To add insult to injury, misogyny is again ignored when it goes as far as to kill three women a day in a serious betrayal of trust - violence from a partner.

Misogyny kills. Debate over, right?

Of course, much of this does not resonate as much as some people would like it to among an ever-present band of critics, skeptics, "trolls", "men's rights activists" and other argumentative types. Why?

Each group has their own reasons for being disagreeable, but perhaps some numbers can illustrate some facts.

Start at the beginning - adults tend to hit boys more than girls (1 2). Further, around 1 in 6 boys may be victims of sexual abuse. Later, as adolescents, boys abuse one another at alarming frequency.

Then comes the transition to adulthood. Marked not only by age, but also by having rounded the bases with a woman. But not just any woman - this aspect is important. The woman in this phase is thought by many feminists as an object of sexual desire, however the woman is perhaps more an object of social status.

The importance of this status perhaps is most obvious when a "hot" female teacher beds a boy in her class. Instead of being a statutory rape like any other, it is often viewed as the teacher blessing the boy with respect for a lifetime. The signal is that the boy may be a prodigy - in this case, the law exists just to insult the maturity and charisma of the young go-getter. The view is that the boy has hit a home run so far that the beta males had to be killjoys and made it illegal.

In adulthood, the messed up priorities and violence still rule the day. This time, as careers. 12% of males between 25 and 34 are veterans. Additionally, we pay men to wear badges and point guns at the bad men closer to home. While these men are paid to maintain law and order, it often does not work out that way.

Men with less exciting roles have the privilege of playing the trendy macho game of "Safety Harnesses are for Cowards" at work.

Thankfully enough males behave well enough so most of the population can enjoy watching men die on television in relative peace.

Within all this, occasionally men manage to surprise us in their capacity for evil. At this point, we have a moment of clarity and realize that male problem solving is fundamentally broken.

The internet at large, being always the enraptured audience of anything particularly gruesome, is eager to dissect. (This post is no exception)

Enter the Saviors

Many line up with answers. If not answering directly the problem of male violence, answering to how one is allowed to react to the discussion.

One such post of late is from Phil Plait, calling out the defensiveness of males participating in the #YesAllWomen hashtag, which spawned shortly after the UCSB tragedy.

A short book could be written that would address all the falsehoods. For example, it is ridiculous to call a 4chan-like "incel" forum a "men's rights" forum. Conflating the two is a silly and insulting distraction. If you want to see what a collection of "men's rights activists" looks like, watch this video of one meetup at the University of Ottawa.

Instead, let's look at one statement Plait says of the "everyday misogyny" that is a good stand-in for his perspective on the matter.

Plait writes:

"We need to change the way we talk to boys in our culture as well as change the way we treat women."

Now, a very polite reading of this could result it in meaning we need to address all the issues with male problem solving in a realistic manner.

However one cannot be faulted in rolling their eyes and thinking that this is just another lecturing all-American platitude. Who we lecturing? Boys. Who are we treating differently? Women.

Let's add it to the scrap heap of other phrases:
  • "Just say no to drugs"
  • "It's cool to stay in school"
  • "Never hit a woman"
All statements contain a hint of truth and the spice necessary to change culture. But ultimately when things get a bit too real this moralistic nonsense is abusive in its own way.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this conga line of preaching is that it comes often from male "scientists" that are usually obligated to bring the data when discussing their field of expertise.

Once the topic is feminism or the social sciences, everyone leaves their numbers and thinking cap at home and wishes us all to listen to anecdotes on Twitter until the tears arrive. We're to think that frequently and collectively paying this penance is somehow going to help us discover solutions.

The happy coincidence is Phil Plait maintains a blog under the header "Bad Astronomy". Perhaps this is a good segue into a blog titled "Absolutely Terrible Feminism".

The mystery is really how we are going to change the way we talk to boys.

For when did we start talking to boys?

Maybe the conversation with boys starts with birth. 

"Do you want to be circumcised, Johnny? Remember, silence is consent."

We listen so well to men's needs.

Fear is everyday.

Violence is everyday.

Click-bait concern is everyday.

Understanding is not.