Monthly Archives: June 2012

Oops! Evolutionary psychology bedrock turns out to be made of manure

Much of evolutionary psychology’s work on gender has rested on a simple paradigm: females are choosy in mate selection, while males will just promiscuously stick it anywhere. I’ve written before on how evolutionary psychology has a tendency towards producing retroactive explanations for modern gender roles and saying we somehow evolved that way.

The mate selection paradigm in particular holds a singular intuitive appeal–if you happen to be a sexist. This is why vast swathes of pseudoscientific theory rest upon it, which trickles down into sexists arguing that they’re not being sexist, this is just how things are and it’s a scientific fact.

But what if that paradigm turned out to be wrong? It rests, largely, on a single iconic study of fruit fly mating behaviour. Now, if we pretend that human and fly mating behaviour is in any way comparable in the first place, it turns out that the study was fatally flawed and impossible to replicate.

The original study was carried out in 1948. Geneticist Angus Bateman put some mixed fruit fly populations in jars, let them mate, and then had a look at whose offspring survived into adulthood. Being 1948, he couldn’t do this by analysing the offspring’s DNA, so he went for the next best thing: he used fruit flies with really distinctive mutations and only bothered examining the offspring who had freakish hideousness identifiable from both parents.

These mutant fruit flies, as it happened, had a nasty habit of dropping dead before adulthood if they ended up with a mutation from both parents: having curly wings and thick bristles has a fairly poor effect on aerodynamics. This effect completely skewed the sample and fucked everything up statistically. While Bateman concluded that males have more offspring when they’re promiscuous and this doesn’t work for females, the findings of the replication were incredibly conclusive.

Also, applying the mating habits of ugly fruit flies with human mating behaviour is probably a little bit silly, evolutionary psychology.

The lead author of the replication study, Patricia Gowarty interprets the results positively: it’s time to build some new paradigms. I wholeheartedly agree with this, but the cynical part of me wonders if this will happen. There are many vested interests tied up in the mate selection paradigm: vast areas of theory are built upon this one study, which will require revision and–shock, horror–examination of the social implications of this.

I would welcome this. I am not sure if the institutions are ready.


This week in misogyny: “I don’t believe you”

Trigger warning: this post discusses and links to attacks on rape survivors who talk about their experiences

“I don’t believe you”. These words squat at the back of survivors’ minds, a little silencing gremlin. We fear not being believed, and it keeps us quiet and allows aggressors to go unchallenged. It allows rape culture to flourish and thrive.

It isn’t an unfounded fear. This vile little phrase drops like a guillotine blade wherever survivors dare to speak.

It lurks at every corner. Sometimes it seems small, like many tweeters declaring they disbelieved young vocal feminist journalist Laurie Penny’s account of misogynistic, aggressive bullying from a drunk David Starkey. Other times, it’s enormous with people telling a survivor that a horrific sexual attack she was brave enough to publicly talk about must not have happened. It’s all part of the same problem. It silences our voices.

It is due to this culture that the I Did Not Report twitter account had to deactivate and move to a more moderateable space. Twitter was not a safe space for survivors to share their experiences. Anonymous defenders of rape sprang up, uttering that despicable little phrase and far, far more.

They want us to shut up. They want us to stop talking about what happened to us. Those four seemingly-benign words are violence, coercion, a weapon. Hearing them is agony. The knowledge that they might be unsheathed is often enough to silence.

This is all so upside-down, arse-backwards fucked up.

Too often, it is only the voices of the defenders of rape and their powerful catchphrase that is heard. This is something that must change.

Where you see a survivor speaking out, commend them. Tell them you believe them. Make it known that for every mouthy little shit wanting to conserve a culture of rape and violence, there are hundreds who believe survivors. Drown out those ugly little voices. Do not be afraid to call out the apologists. They need to hear that they are wrong, dangerously so.

It is a sorry state of affairs when the three most gratifyingly beautiful words in the English language are currently “I believe you”. Yet they are, and these are words that must be shouted.

 


It’s OK to like science, girls. It’s sexy now.

Science has a bit of a gender problem. At the higher levels, women are usually disproportionately underrepresented, and it’s probably absolutely nothing to do with our little ladybrains being unable to comprehend the complexities of unlocking the truths of the universe, and everything to do with society.

Having rightly identified that the problem is broadly social, the EU decided to try and get more women into science. Really badly. Really, really, really badly. Check this shit out.

That is not a satire. All the sexy dancing around and pink powder exploding and exhortations about cosmetics are entirely real and entirely how the EU think women will be persuaded to pursue a career in science.

Science, according to the EU, is fun! It’s sexy! Boys will like you! And you can still be a girl. Not a woman, but a girl. If you go into science, you will never have to grow up, and that is sexy. Forget about all the boring research and discoveries and that orgasmic rush of your first EUREKA moment! Who needs that when lab goggles are the must-have accessory for Spring/Summer 2013?

The website is slightly better, in that at least it doesn’t tell us that we’re just children defined by how we look. It provides some profiles of women working in science who actually talk about their research, at least. On the other hand, it also promises a quiz to help you find your “dream job”, because women can’t decide anything without a magazine-style quiz. It also lists areas of science which could do with more women, which focuses very hard on stereotypically “female” traits such as creativity, insight and a desire to help.

All in all, it’s an enormous marketing backfire. Far from showing women why science is awesome and they should get involved, it reinforces some pretty tired stereotypes.

Furthermore, it fails to address one of the major problems facing women in science: sexism. Many branches of the sciences are male-dominated old boys’ clubs at the top, and when high-profile ambassadors for science such as Richard Dawkins merrily declare that sexual harassment is a problem to be solved later, it makes women feel uncomfortable and exposes us further to gender-based harassment. This male-dominated culture leads to other real-world problems, such as many early-career research positions taking the form of short-term contracts, which means you’re fucked if you get pregnant.

It is the culture that needs to change. Women are not avoiding the sciences because science isn’t sexy or fun. It is a culture which is currently not an environment which is accessible for many women. To recruit more women, therefore, what needs to be shown is that this is changing.

Failing that, a video of the ghost of Rosalind Franklin aggressively haunting Richard Dawkins might work better.


Love your disgusting, stinky fannymuffins: Femfresh and the backlash

Femfresh are a company that make products to disguise the natural scent of your cunt with an array of soaps and perfumed wipes, which, presumably, then serve to cover up the inevitable bacterial vaginosis or thrush from use of the product.

Now, cunts are great, and there’s nothing wrong with the natural aroma of them, but Femfresh have a product to sell and therefore need to pretend that there is. Instead of going by the “YOUR CUNT IS DISGUSTING AND YOUR HUSBAND WILL LEAVE YOU SO DOUCHE WITH CLEANING PRODUCTS” route, like the Lysol ads of old, Femfresh have alighted upon faux-empowerment.

It’s all about “care”, they proclaim. It’s better than soap, they proclaim. WOOHOO FOR MY FROO FROO, they actually literally say, accompanied by a string of other nauseatingly infantilised synonyms for a cunt. “Whatever you call it, make sure that you love it”, they explain. Then they decided to take the show on the digital road and set up a Facebook page.

What followed was gratifying. The page was over-run by women furious being told that they needed to risk thrush and a cunt that smells like a hospital corridor to be “clean”. Under every post, jokes about bacterial vaginosis appeared. There was also a lot of ire directed at the sickeningly euphemistic turns of phrase used by Femfresh.

Soon, Femfresh backtracked on their “whatever you call it, make sure that you love it” line and became huffy about people saying words like “cunt” and “vulva” on their page. They even, bafflingly, explained to twitterer @GreenEyed82, that “vulva” was offensive to “mums of daughters”. All in all, it was a huge failure in social media marketing. They just couldn’t delete the comments quickly enough.

The problem is, it was always going to be social media suicide for a product like Femfresh. While there is certainly a demographic of women who have become, through marketing, paranoid about the smell of their cunts, times are changing. There are a lot of women around who know that putting something perfumed on a delicately-balanced part of the body can only lead to itching, often because this has happened to them and they have been told by people who actually know what they’re talking about that washing with anything other than water is A Bad Idea. There are a lot of women around who accept that cunts smell and that’s quite all right because they’ve never had a potential lover run screaming and clutching their nose. There are a lot of women around who object to having their cunts infantilised with words like “la-la” and “froo-froo”.

And so we shout. And so we kick up a stink. And so Femfresh’s job of making us hate our cunts becomes just that bit harder.

That can only be a good thing.

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For more on cunt-scent and Femfresh, Girlonthenet has written a stormingly good post.


I still think Julian Assange is a rapist.

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape and links to some nasty examples of rape apologism

The latest in the saga of rat-faced probable rapist Julian Assange: having lost countless extradition appeals, he has skipped bail and is trying to skip the country to go to Ecuador.

I have written before about how Julian Assange and Wikileaks are two mutually exclusive concepts, and that Wikileaks has never raped anyone, but Assange probably did based on what his own defence lawyers have said. It’s also a remarkably silly decision for a self-proclaimed hero of free speech to decide to go to Ecuador.

The thing about Ecuador is that they’ve got a pretty bad record on letting journalists speak their minds, unless they’re thinking about how thoroughly brilliant government is. Assange is, I suppose, fairly chummy with the Ecuadorean president, so maybe this relationship can work, and our self-proclaimed hero of free speech can live out the rest of his days as a state propagandist. If his plea for asylum goes through, I suspect Wikileaks will never publish anything remotely critical of Ecuador again. So much for free speech.

Usually for the excuses Assange is using–that he might face the death penalty in the US for his work with Wikileaks–the place you would probably want to seek asylum is Sweden. Sweden is pretty fucking good on not extraditing people: their law means they cannot send someone to a country with the death penalty or for political offences. And they take CIA rendition flights very seriously. Simply put, Sweden would not extradite someone like Assange for his work with Wikileaks.

So why won’t Assange go back to Sweden, where he is still phenomenally unlikely to find his arse extradited? All that is left, once the smoke and mirrors of the inflated threat of extradition from Sweden clears, is the fact that Assange raped two of Sweden’s citizens. And of course, Assange’s fans are still banging the rape apologism drum.

They fundamentally (probably wilfully) misunderstand consent, one site thinking that a sleeping woman should have probably expressed non-consent if she didn’t want to be raped while asleep. Another, an incoherent mess suggesting that the site was put together by run-of-the-mill rape apologists rather than the hackers, laments Sweden’s “gender politics”, considering the whole thing to be some sort of big feminist conspiracy to get men to wear condoms. And of course, the survivors are dragged through the mud again and again, and my heart goes out to them. Not only do they suffer the utterly vile abuse of the fans, but they are instrumentalised in a both real and perceived international power struggle by a reboant chorus of cunts who can’t tell the difference between a rapist and a website.

The rape apologism shows the last resort of people with no other form of argument. The US extradition threat from Sweden is flimsy, but Assange wants to evade any form of accountability for his actions.

Which makes things difficult. In my ideal anarcho-utopia, there would be no courts and no extraditions (for there would be no borders). Sexual violence would be addressed through transformative justice and community accountability, with the needs of the survivor put first. But here’s the pinch: it requires engagement from everyone. It requires the Assanges of the world to stop running and start to accept that they have crossed boundaries. It requires the rape apologists of the world to shut the fuck up and stop spinning conspiracies, expressing deep misogyny and outright lying about survivors.

It is due to people like this that we are stuck with the current system we have, deeply flawed and often harmful. They are doing themselves no favours.

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Big thanks to @gwenhwyfaer, who pointed out to me how Sweden’s usually going to be the place you want to flee to if you’re in trouble politically.


On gendered food

I love burritos. There is nothing not to love about a face-sized pocket of joy bursting with meat and chilli and veg. It gave me great dismay, then, to visit my favourite burrito joint for the first time in months and discovering that my gigantic joy-pockets have become gendered. This discovery came quite by accident: most of my vowel sounds are schwas, and when I was handed a disappointingly tiny joy-pocket, I was informed of my error. Instead of ordering a burrito, I had ordered a burrita.

It’s a feminine name. A needlessly feminine noun, because this is a burrito for girls. It’s smaller, see, so we won’t get terrified by the mighty mighty girth of the man-burrito.

It might sound as if I’m overreacting to the feeble portion of luncheon I was given. This is certainly a possibility, but food is gendered. Take meat, for example. Meat is, apparently, very manly. Meat is marketed at men in a way to reinforce their heterosexuality by making it as deliciously sexy as possible. Meanwhile, salad is girly. Salad is for women to eat while laughing alone.* We’re also allowed to like chocolate and cake in moderation. This photoset shows starkly just how gendered food marketing is.

It’s worth asking ourselves why this is. A few years ago, Salon magazine asked a few experts. Some of the answers are utter bollocks, involving women being more genetically predisposed to sweet things, or men needing more meat to build muscles because thousands of years ago they were definitely the hunters, or mysterious ladyhormones. Salon concludes that this is probably rubbish, and I wholeheartedly concur.

The thing is, it’s not that some food is inherently more palatable to people of a certain gender. Of course it isn’t. It’s just the symbiotic relationship between marketing professionals and patriarchy at work once again. Patriarchy instils a certain set of insecurities and expectations into people. Playing on these existing stereotypes makes the marketing jobs easier, and they can all take a cocaine break and then work out how to make women a little more paranoid about the shape of their earlobes. Marketing and patriarchy feed each other in an ouroboros of tedious stereotyping.

Eating for basic sustenance is not a gendered activity. Neither is eating for pleasure. Yet patriarchy and its PR cheerleaders make it so. I wish they’d keep their politics out of my lunch.

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*Although, it is worth noting that the marketing executives might have started to worry about men getting scurvy from all the meat they’re cramming into their faces, so decided to make fruit a bit sexier.


Where’s the politics in Julie Bindel?

Note: This makes more sense if you read this first.

What makes some of us uncomfortable with Julie Bindel? Is it because she she feels the urge to dictate who bisexual women are supposed to sleep with?

In today’s post-modern, queer-focused world, political lesbianism is being promoted to bisexual women as the latest regressive trend. This has resulted in sexual liberation, namely feminism, being passed over for repression, where the only thing that matters is a form of outmoded ideological purity. Similarly, heterosexuality is sold to bisexual women as some type of respite from the odious sin of sexual attraction to people of any gender. It is seen as “a phase” or “an abomination”.

It is more ideologically pure to have sex with a woman if you are a bisexual woman, as you are then doing what you are “supposed” to do. Julie Bindel, the most famous “completely wrong” lesbian, has written reams about how bisexual women are actually big blacklegged scabs who are letting down the side, if indeed they exist at all.

Those of us who grew up in a time and context where there was a political analysis of sexuality were able to make a positive choice to be a lesbian. I believed then, and I believe now, that if bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.

Is Bindel really so set on increasing the pool of available women to sleep with that she is resorting to cheap manipulation.

But many women, all of them called Sarah, believe that Julie Bindel and her ilk have got it all wrong. One study of women called Sarah, which draws on data from over 400 Sarahs, found that all of them think Bindel is wrong, and that bisexual women exist and that’s none of her business.And that’s just the Sarahs. There’s probably some more people who aren’t called Sarah who disagree fundamentally with Bindel.

Whatever our views of alternate sexuality may be, we cannot deny that since the 1970s, women have been coerced and manipulated into political lesbianism under the veil of viable political ideology. They are demanded to become fully available for lesbian sex.

When I write about making a positive choice to fuck who I like, I am accused of letting down the cause. That is nonsense. I personally feel that sexual freedom can and must be a part of feminism, and that includes nobody telling who I can and cannot fuck.

When I write about sexual freedom, the way most people approach sexuality is that they identify as straight, gay or somewhere in between, completely rejecting binary notions of gender. For queer people living under the tyrrany of kyriarchy, choosing to shake off the shackles of the dreaded pincer of hegemonic heterosexuality and oppressive political lesbianism can be a liberatory act.

Those of us who grew up–or are still growing up–with a political analysis of liberty and a rejection of coercion, are able to make the positive choice to express their sexuality in any way they choose. I believe that if human beings had an ounce of politics they would stop reading Julie Bindel.


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