Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Using disgust

Jun 26th, 2015 5:38 pm | By

That wrapped/unwrapped candy metaphor…

How compelling can it be when it applies only to women? If women get all fly-blown and filthy because their heads are naked, why don’t men? If women with fly-blown hair are gross and disgusting, why aren’t men?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The idea that human dignity is innate

Jun 26th, 2015 4:10 pm | By

Clarence Thomas’s dissent is getting a lot of attention, all of it in the form of incredulous derision. (I hang with a rough crowd.)

It starts on page 78.

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the
Constitution, but with the principles upon which our
Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been
understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement
to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty.
Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a
“liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to
the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect.


How is it to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect? Which liberty? Just liberty in general? I can’t see it. He must mean our liberty to take things away from people we consider oooky in some way.

Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of
Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests
instead that it comes from the Government. This distortion
of our Constitution not only ignores the text, it inverts
the relationship between the individual and the state in
our Republic. I cannot agree with it.

Oh good grief, how childish. Cue Gary Cooper standing strong-jawed and knocking down a building, because Freedom.

On to page 93 and his already-notorious claims about human dignity.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country
to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration
of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred
to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image
of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity
cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not
lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity)
because the government allowed them to be enslaved.
Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity
because the government confined them. And those denied
governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity
because the government denies them those benefits. The
government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it

Oh gawd. That’s such an appalling thing to say. He’s taking the thought that oppressed people use in order to hang on to their own inner sense of dignity under horrible conditions, and treating it as a true claim about reality. It’s not a true claim about reality – it’s a huge lie about reality. Of course slaves lost their dignity because the government allowed them to be enslaved, and that was one of the many outrages against them. Slavery stole their dignity from them.

Government can take dignity away so easily and so thoroughly. Imprisonment, torture, death, denial of rights – all are ways to take dignity away. It’s great if people can feel they still have their dignity inside despite that, but that does not take the onus off government.

George H W Bush has a lot to answer for.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Supreme confusion

Jun 26th, 2015 3:04 pm | By

The Supreme Court IS NOT the Supreme Being, says Mike Huckabee. No, it’s not, and neither is the supreme being.

That is, the imagined tyrant in Mike Huckabee’s head does not exist and has no authority over us, no matter how ardently Mike Huckabee insists it does and it has.

Mike Huckabee thinks he gets to treat his god as the boss of all of us, even those of us who pay enough attention to realize that Huckabee’s projected god is just a fantasy. Mike Huckabee is wrong. He may some day be able to do it by force, but he has no right to.

Mike Huckabee doesn’t get to say that because his imaginary Big Bully hates same-sex marriage, the law should forbid same-sex marriage. Nobody elected Mike Huckabee’s Big Bully.

If you can’t negotiate with it, it’s not a legitimate authority.

Away with it, into the attic with the rest of the junk.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Vote for the theocrat!

Jun 26th, 2015 2:53 pm | By

Quoth Mike Huckabee:

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Remember the nine

Jun 26th, 2015 11:13 am | By

It’s a good day, with the ruling, but it’s also the day of Clementa Pinckney’s funeral.

There’s live video of the funeral service.

And live updating by the Guardian.

The pastor is singing – Ship of Zion. Quite impossible not to be moved by it.

The Obamas and Biden have arrived. Everyone is singing “It is well in my soul.” There are a lot of pastors in purple on the…stage? Podium? The raised place in front, facing the congregation. It occurs to me that they can all be thinking, “I could have been one.”

“Put his eyes to the telescope of eternity.”

This song I actually know.

The Guardian is transcribing live for me, so I don’t have to.

The president is speaking now.

“The bible tells us to hope and persevere,” he began.

Obama went on to say that while he did not know Pinckney well, he did meet him when they were both young – when Obama had fewervisible grey hairs.

Obama said Pinckney came from a family of preachers and a family of protesters who fought for the right to vote and helped desegregate the South.

As he speaks, you can hear murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

Pinckney was a good man, Obama says, adding: “You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.” According to Obama, that js all one can hope for when eulogizing anyone – that after all the résumés are read, that the person be a good person.

Obama names all nine people shot dead last week: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr, Reverend Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson.

“To the families of fallen, the nation shares in your grief. The church is and always has been the center of African American life. A place to call our own in often hostile world. A sanctuary from many hardships.”

It’s very very churchy and goddy. It had to be.

The Black church is our beating heart, says Obama.

“There is no better example of this than Mother Emanuel.”

Obama says that it is not known if the suspect in the shooting knew the history of the church he targeted, but says he probably sensed its meaning.

“[It was] an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepend divisions that track back to our nation’s original sin,” says Obama.

“God works in mysterious ways. God has different ideas. He didn’t know he was being used by God.”

He said the mysterious ways part with a preacherly little chuckle. It was a peripateia – he set up the tragedy and then turned it.

To great applause, Obama says that “the alleged killer” was blinded by hatred; that the alleged killer could not see the grace around Pinckney and the bible study group as they opened the doors of the church to him.

He could not see, the president says, that the families of victims would respond with words of forgiveness or that the nation would respond not with revulsion but with a retrospection and self-examination that we so rarely see.

And now he’s talking directly about race and racism. The Guardian has paused in its transcribing for the moment.

“For too long” – that gets a stir of applause and murmurs.

“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut – we don’t need more talk.”

“An open heart” – that’s what we need now, he says.

The dude is singing.

That’s it.

The Guardian has caught up:

Obama says that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s remarks calling for removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol were worthy of praise.

Obama says that the “flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride” – a remark which is greeted by great applause.

“For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of system oppression and racial segregation,” Obama says.

Removing the flag is not an act of political correctness, Obama says, but a sign that the cause for which the Confederates fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.

That got a lot of applause.

Here’s the part where he got into it:

Obama says we all must think about conscious and unconscious racial discrimination in our every day lives. Not just about racial slurs, but also about how we want to call Johnny back for a job interview, but not Jamal.

We have to begin by treating every child equally no matter their race or the station they were born into, he says.

Obama also says we need to open our eyes to the mayhem of gun violence.

“Sporadically our eyes are open,” he says, as when people are shot at an elementary school, at a movie theatre, or in the basement of a church.

We should also not forget about the 30 lives lost to gun violence every day, he adds. Or the survivors, who are crippled by guns, or children now fearful and communities overflowing with grief.

Every time another act of gun violence occurs, someone says we need to talk about race, says Obama.

We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.

Pinckney “understood that justice stems from recognition … that my liberty depends on you being free too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice,” says Obama.

Instead, he says, history must be used as a manual to break the cycle.

It was powerful.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern

Jun 26th, 2015 10:38 am | By

The provost of UCL has issued a new statement.

Does he apologize and offer to reinstate Tim Hunt as an honorary professor?


UCL was the first University in England to admit women on equal terms to men. Equality between the sexes is one of our core values, yet this past fortnight our commitment to women and to women in science has been challenged, our reputation put under pressure and we have been part of an intense and uncomfortable media storm.

The trigger for this was remarks about the place of women in science made by Sir Tim Hunt. I don’t intend to repeat or re-analyse who said what, where or when, and thereby provide more fuel for media speculation. I will simply restate that when on the 10th June Sir Tim sent in his resignation from his honorary position with UCL, as Provost I sanctioned acceptance of that resignation in good faith on the basis that it was his personal choice as the honourable thing to do.

First let me say that I do regret that my acceptance of that resignation, and our announcement of it, has led to so much personal difficulty for Sir Tim and also for Professor Mary Collins, who is a highly respected and valued senior member of staff at UCL. I met with Mary last week and also spoke to Sir Tim by phone. Some regrets were expressed in both directions.

There has been a great deal of comment, but I would point readers of this article to two very high quality blogs on this subject by eminent women scientists, one written by Dorothy Bishop that is supportive of UCL’s position and one, for balance, that is less supportive from Athene Donald.

For both of these blogs it is worth reading the comments sections to see just how divided society and the world of science is about this problem. My own inbox has been full of that divided opinion both external and internal to UCL and after discussing the whole issue with our heads of departments and other leaders earlier this week, I felt that it was now important for me to make my views known to our UCL community and the world at large.

What good can come of this episode and what ultimately is the big picture that UCL should now focus its energies and efforts on? Equality, diversity and the greatest good for the greatest number are enshrined in our Benthamite origins. Those values hold true to this day and we constantly try to live up to them.

To a significant extent, we, like many other universities, have failed to achieve the level of equality and diversity that we aspire to. We have been self-critical in this regard and have identified the need to do better as a key part of our strategy, UCL 2034. We are making slow (some would say glacial) progress on gender equality and are working hard to tackle racialised inequalities (perhaps an even more complex issue) head on. Women now make up 33% of the senior academic and professional staff in grades 9 and 10.

Because we are not satisfied with this level of progress, we have adopted the Athena Swan methodology widely across the institution and have now achieved more Athena Swan Silver awards than any other University and have just submitted our application for an institutional Silver award. We are also one of the pilot universities in the Race Equality Charter Mark scheme and have just submitted that too. Every faculty and professional service has an equality action plan that is being implemented and all members of the Senior Management Team have personal objectives with respect to equality and diversity.

In other words Equality and Diversity is not just an aspiration at UCL but informs our everyday thinking and our actions. It was for this very reason that Sir Tim’s remarks struck such a discordant note. Our ambition is to create a working environment in which women feel supported and valued at work. To be frank, a reputation for such helps us attract the very best women to UCL, including women in science. Athene Donald’s blog contains some excellent practical suggestions for what we should actually do to improve things for women in science, all of which I agree with.

There have been many calls for me to reverse my decision to accept Sir Tim Hunt’s resignation from his honorary post at UCL, but there have also been very significant representations to me not to do so, including, but not only, from women in science. Our view is that reversing that decision would send entirely the wrong signal and I have reason to believe that Sir Tim would also not want that to happen.

An honorary appointment is meant to bring honour both to the person and to the University. Sir Tim has apologised for his remarks, and in no way do they diminish his reputation as a scientist. However, they do contradict the basic values of UCL – even if meant to be taken lightly – and because of that I believe we were right to accept his resignation. Our commitment to gender equality and our support for women in science was and is the ultimate concern.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jun 26th, 2015 9:18 am | By

Via Chris Clarke:


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Supremes to pope: you lose

Jun 26th, 2015 8:26 am | By

The New York Times:

In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Courtruled on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 5 to 4 decision. He was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices.

As Eddie Tabash likes to say, it’s Justice Kennedy’s world and we all live in it. This time it worked out.

Scalia of course had to poop on the party.

In a second dissent, Justice Scalia mocked Justice Kennedy’s soaring language.

“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic,” Justice Scalia wrote of his colleague’s work. “Of course the opinion’s showy profundities are often profoundly incoherent.”

He’s just jealous.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The pope explains about marriage

Jun 25th, 2015 5:57 pm | By

The pope talked a bunch of awful shit on Sunday the 14th, the day after Rome’s gay pride march.

Addressing around 25,000 followers from the Diocese of Rome, the pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and “an integral part of being human.”

Bullshit. People have all sorts of differences, of personality and temperament and kinds of talents and all sorts. The ones between women and men are not the only or the most special ones, and it’s certainly not the pope’s job to hype them. What does he know about it?!

The pontiff likened a long-lasting marriage to a good wine, in which a husband and wife make the most of their gender differences.

“They’re not scared of the differences!” the pope said. “What great richness this diversity is, a diversity which becomes complementary, but also reciprocal. It binds them, one to the other.”

What would he know about it? Why is he literally pontificating about it? He’s officially a non-expert on this subject so why is he bloviating about it? He’s not married and his church loathes women, so he’s one of the last people who should be laying down the law on what marriage is like and how wonderful differences and diversity are.

Heterosexual marriages not only ensured couples’ happiness, the pontiff said, but were deemed essential for good parenting.

“Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference,” Francis said.

Who says? Children can just as well mature seeing their two fathers or their two mothers being a couple. He’s just making it up, and it’s all bullshit, and nasty excluding hateful bullshit at that. He’s serving an evil church and an evil god and he should just shut up.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Push-up bras encouraged

Jun 25th, 2015 4:42 pm | By

Well at least we know that if we do see sexism anywhere we can point it out without repercussions.

Hahahahaha just kidding, no we don’t. Look what happened to Rose McGowan for instance.

Pushback against Hollywood sexism seems to have gotten Rose McGowan dropped from the talent agency Innovative Artists.

Late Wednesday, the actress and director wrote on Twitter that her agent fired her because she “spoke up” about Hollywood casting practices, adding the hashtag #BRINGIT. Last week, the actress had tweeted the casting notes from a movie whose star, she wrote, has a name that “rhymes with Madam Panhandler.”

That is, Adam Sandler. Behold those casting notes:

Embedded image permalink

Notes: Please make sure to read the attached script before coming in so you understand the context of the scenes. 

-Wardrobe note: Black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push up bras encouraged). And form fitting leggings or jeans. Nothing white.

In short, we’re auditioning your tits and your bum.

A few days later, Ms. McGowan told Entertainment Weekly that while she was not trying to vilify Adam Sandler in the tweet, it was “the stupidity more than anything” that set her off. “I was offended by the fact that went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it,” Ms. McGowan said. “This is normal to so many people.”

Yes, it is, and that’s why we keep trying to make it better, to shouts of “witch hunt” and “lynch mob.” (Will there be witch hunt-lynch mob shouts about reactions to Adam Sandler’s casting notes? Any bets? No, that would be a terrible bet to make. Of course there will.)

I wonder if Richard Dawkins will be rushing to protest the lynch mob at McGowan’s agency that fired her as a client. No I don’t; of course he won’t. Rose McGowan isn’t a top male scientist, so he’s not going to give a rat’s ass about her.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The ultimate in liberation

Jun 25th, 2015 1:25 pm | By

More choicey-choice choice: a woman in a hijab explains that it’s all about rejecting consumerism. It’s a choice to reject consumerism by (as she puts it) covering up.

The liberation lies in the choice.

She does admit, impatiently, that yes women in some places are forced to wear it, but then brushes that off to return to her main point, that the veil is not a symbol of oppression.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Ethel Lee Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

Jun 25th, 2015 12:15 pm | By

The first two funerals for the victims of the racist shootings in Charleston are being held today.

The services for Ethel Lee Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton will both take place after viewings at Baptist churches in North Charleston.

Ms Lance, 70, worked for the church for 30 years and was a mother of five.

Abigail Darlington at the Charleston Post and Courier wrote a profile of Lance last week.

Ethel Lance loved to dress up and take her family to see performances at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium when she wasn’t on duty there as a custodian.

She started working at the venue in 1968 when it first opened, and she stayed until retirement in 2002, according to Cam Patterson, director of special facilities for the city of Charleston, who worked with Lance at the Gaillard for many years.

Patterson said Lance was not only a co-worker, but a friend.

Ethel Lance

“She was funny and a pleasure to be around. And she was a wonderful mother and grandmother,” Patterson said. “She would have her children and grandchildren come to the Gaillard from time to time. She was like me, a no-nonsense grandmother and I know they are going to miss her terribly.”

She wasn’t someone who needed to be shot dead inside her church by a murderous racist.

“A strong woman,” was the first phrase that came to Esther Lance’s mind to describe her mother.

Her voice cracked as she fought back tears, explaining that this isn’t the first time her family has dealt with loss.

Lance’s husband and the father of her children, Nathaniel Lance, died in 1988. In October 2013, her daughter Terrie Washington died of cancer at age 53.

And Ethel Lance was the matriarch, the “strong woman who just tried to keep her family together,” Esther Lance said.

She was dedicated to Emanuel AME Church, where she was a lifelong member, Esther Lance said. As its custodian, she took pride in looking after the historic church.

“If she saw a scuff on the floor she’d say, ‘Oh no, don’t y’all mess up my floor’,” Esther Lance said, adding that’s just the way her mother was.

“If she saw something wrong, she’ll tell you,” Esther Lance said. “When you right, you’re right. But if you’re wrong, she will let you know. She’s not going to sugar-coat anything.”

But her mother was happy, full of joy, she added. She always found time to spoil her seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, by buying them gifts and taking them to the movies.

She should be still doing that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To clean up the mess

Jun 25th, 2015 11:58 am | By

Best headline of the day:

Man arrested for pouring syrup on sidewalk

Only in Canada eh?

Police were called around 10 a.m. Thursday, and found a strange “unknown, sticky liquid” covering a four-foot area on the corner of Summers Lane downtown, police say.

A city road crew had to be called in to clean up the liquid. “They think it might’ve been a syrup — maybe maple syrup,” said city spokesperson Kelly Anderson. “But they don’t know for sure what it was.”

Well why didn’t they taste it?

Witnesses pointed out the man they said was responsible, and police arrested the 56-year-old for mischief. “He caused resources to have to be deployed to clean this stuff up,” said Const. Steve Welton.

City crews had to lay down “absorbent material” to clean up the mess, Anderson said.

I bet it was honey. I bet I know where the honey came from, too.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Ethics in journalism

Jun 25th, 2015 11:42 am | By


Charles Seife ‏@cgseife 6 hours ago
I asked EU official @marcinmonko if he was the source of #timhunt Times “transcript,” and if he was recording/taking notes. (1/2)

His full response: “The document that the Times refers to is an internal report, not a verbatim transcript.” (2/2) #timhunt

Not a verbatim transcipt.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Signaling ethical distance

Jun 25th, 2015 10:29 am | By

Guest post by Josh Spokes

Reflexively voicing your “support for their right to choose this choice” actually serves a regressive, right-wing political project.

Have you ever noticed that the idea of “choice” and “agency” is only ever invoked to defend the right to enact stereotyped roles that have not only been culturally favored, but culturally enforced?

I’m serious—that’s really important and worth talking about. One only ever gets pushback about “defending their right to X” when the X is taking on a stereotyped role.

When was the last time you saw someone—-in our context of politically liberal, “freethinker” types who are talking among themselves—make a point of “defending” the right to make these choices?

  • A woman with a butch affect
  • A gay man with a queeny demeanor
  • A black woman who eschews religious talk and doesn’t want to be your mammy

You DON’T. You only ever get people saying you’re “taking away her agenciesss!!!” when you are questioning what it means to enact:

  • “Femininity” as defined by high heels, lipstick, and “girl stuff”
  • “Straight acting” gay bros
  • Black women who inhabit the role of “soulful church-goer.”

Please consider what you’re doing when you enact the “It’s their choice and I defend it!” Ask yourself if it seems strange that the choices you’re defending are the very ones that are not in danger, and that are still actually culturally mandatory for a lot of people.

Ask yourself if it seems out of place that you’re signaling ethical distance from friends who question these things, and whether you really want to say that they—not the enforcers of convention—are the illiberal threat.

Because it is very strange.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Our choices are not made in a cultural vacuum

Jun 25th, 2015 9:44 am | By

While I was writing that last post, Elsa Roberts was writing this one which she posted on Facebook. She gave me permission to republish it here.

Somewhere, somehow, responses in any community start to short circuit and we begin to rely too heavily on coded phrases as stand-ins for conversation and complexity, and reason and evidence. For example, because feminism is about enabling equity and with that comes the ability to choose sometimes that gets boiled down to “any choice a woman makes is feminist and can’t be criticized (or theoretically it could be but just try it and see how that works out in some circles).

That is fundamentally flawed and thoughtless way of examining something. When we boil things down to catch phrases and jargon we lose the ability to analyze thoughtfully and to consider all the evidence and context on the table.

One of the most pernicious and irritating examples of this for me is the one alluded to above, that if a woman chooses something that is “her choice” and critiquing it or judging it or thinking critically about it is almost automatically shaming or un-feminist. That is a really misguided supposition because our choices are influenced by many things and many of our choices are not going to be feminist or they will just have very little to do with feminism.

Our choices are not made in a cultural vacuum, how I choose to dress, what I watch on TV, etc. is all influenced by the company I keep and the culture I live in. If we want to make this world more equitable and question and change our practices, we must be able to evaluate them critically and admit when a given practice or choice isn’t feminist or when it is simply irrelevant as to whether it is or not.

Feminists fight endlessly about whether, for example, lipstick is feminist or heels are feminist. This, to me, misses the point. Those objects are not fundamentally feminist or not feminist, but as objects they do serve as signifiers in our culture and they fit into broader social norms and regulations and expectations. That is why if a man wears lipstick or heels he is at risk of violence – because those are symbolic of femininity that is supposed to be pleasing to men. Men wearing such things threatens those norms and confuses what those objects “mean” in our world.

Boiling these topics down to “choice” is to ignore the complexity of our world and social dynamics and to deny the reality of how choice functions.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Choosy moms choose Jif

Jun 25th, 2015 9:08 am | By

Feminism is not just about “choice” or “free choice.”

Thanks for the random observation, you’re thinking – but I keep hearing from people who seem to think it is…or rather, they seem to think it is when it comes to some issues but not others. They think it absolutely is when it comes to women doing videos for Playboy, but not so much when it comes to having 19 children and raising them to be warriors for god. There are some contentious areas where it’s trendy to say IT’S HER FREE CHOICE, END OF, and there are other contentious areas where it’s not trendy to say that.

Me, I avoid this troubling inconsistency by not claiming that CHOICE is a conversation-stopper, a judge’s gavel, a guaranteed winning argument.

But I actually have more substantive reasons for not claiming that, like the fact that choices are complicated and it’s not reasonable to assume that they’re all “free” in any meaningful way. Choices come from somewhere, and while there are degrees of constraint and influence and coercion, it’s pretty hard to figure out how any choice could be entirely free. (Cue free will debate here. Cue 500 thousand words of wrangling. There, that’s done.) If you have that in mind, it becomes a little absurd to try to claim that something like doing a Playboy video is a wholly free choice. If it’s really free, why would you want to do it at all? It’s not directly rewarding like food or sex, so why do it?

Note for the obtuse: I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with doing a Playboy video. I’m saying “it’s her choice” is neither a slam dunk argument nor a feminist argument.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Seeing the unseen

Jun 24th, 2015 5:39 pm | By

More from Hilda Bastian’s post on “just joking” and sexist talk in science.

Sexist humor’s impact may also reduce people’s willingness to take action against discrimination. Take for example this randomized controlled trial of men recruited via Mechanical Turk, published by Ford and colleagues in 2013 [PDF]. Men who were already high in hostile sexism were less likely to express support for actions that would improve gender equality after hearing sexist rather than neutral jokes. Even if that only meant they were more willing “to show their hand”, it’s not reassuring.

No, it’s not. We see that playing out all the time on Twitter – all those sexist bullies reducing each other’s willingness to take action against discrimination, day in and day out. Twitter is to sexism as manure is to tomato plants.

When Hunt spoke/joked of the benefit of all-male labs, he was not hypothesizing some comic universe. There are all-male labs – and most are headed by men (including the ones at the Crick where Hunt wound up a lab in 2010).

Speaking of the Crick brings us to the issue of what role eminence plays. Should it mean you get more of a pass than someone else?

The opposite! Because eminence leads to visibility and influence. If you use your visibility and influence to shit on feminism, the way Dawkins does, you’re doing a bad thing.

According to work by Jason Sheltzer and Joan Smith, elite male scientists may be even less likely than other men to employ women in biology labs. Anything that reinforces the message from their peers that this is in any way desirable isn’t going to help.

Sexist remarks and jokes form one of the constellation of factors that make up workplace gender harassment, mapped out by Emily Leskinen and Lilia Cortina with a group of experts in 2014A 2010 systematic review and meta-analysis by Sandy Hershcovis and Julian Barling found that the higher the status of a person who is harassing, the worse the damage. That seems to me to be relevant to the public sphere as well.

And then there’s the whole “you have no sense of humor!” routine. It’s in the box with “you’re ugly” and “you’re a prude” and “you’re a witch.”

Julia Becker and colleagues point to the need for “seeing the unseen” – understanding what everyday sexism really is. That’s not enough, though, to change sexist behavior – that requires empathy, as well. Gender bias awareness training has had some success in academic environments, including the WAGES program (studies summarized by Becker) and a cluster randomized trial reported recently by Molly Carnes and colleagues.

We need to make it safe to confront sexist behavior, though, especially when it’s coming from powerful and influential people: it hasn’t looked all that safe during the Hunt incident.

That’s one way bloggers can be useful, I guess – we don’t have to be afraid of bosses or angry colleagues. (Unless of course we’re the kind of blogger who has a job as well as a blog, but who is that rash and foolhardy?)

Yes, there’s a lot we can do to dismantle everyday sexism as individuals. But we can’t just expect people to take potentially serious risks with their careers, one by vulnerable one. We need better support for when they do. We need collective action, too, to enable social change. The internet and digital communication are unleashing torrents of sexist and misogynist ugliness on a scale we’ve never seen before. It’s also enabling anew wave of feminism though, writes Rebecca Solnit:

…building arguments comment by comment, challenging, testing, reinforcing and circulating the longer arguments in blogs, essays and reports. It’s like a barn-building for ideas: innumerable people bring their experiences, insights, analysis, new terms and frameworks.

We need to strengthen “feminists on Twitter”, not revile them. Gender equality is inherently disruptive to those comfortable with the status quo: anything other than almost imperceptible change will be discomfiting to many. We can’t know for sure, of course, what will bring us deep and lasting progress.

But it won’t come from being ladylike.

Good; I’m doing it right then.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Disparagement humor

Jun 24th, 2015 4:00 pm | By

Drop everything and read this: “Just” Joking? Sexist Talk in Science by Hilda Bastian. She’s a scientist and a cartoonist. She has a cartoon at the top of three guys indulging in a spot of sexist “banter” – it’s amusing that all three of them could be Richard Dawkins.

I want to talk about research and sexist jokes, and where that leads. It’s a response to a narrative about the Tim Hunt situation that goes something like this:

It was just a joke. An unfortunate turn of phrase. It’s not that big a deal. He’s a nice guy who’s nice to many women – he didn’t mean to belittle anybody. It’s not demeaning if you don’t intend it to be. He’s eminent as well as nice, so give him a break. Lighten up. What has the world come to? Over the top social media firestorms are a worse threat than thoughtless remarks. Academic freedom/democracy is at stake.

We’ve been seeing that narrative for two weeks, intensifying all the time, and it’s gone into high gear today thanks to the Times and the Daily Mail and their publication of breathless pieces saying “it turns out that Tim Hunt was joking and that changes everything!!!” We already knew he claimed he was joking (along with also saying he was serious about at least some of what he said), and it changes fucking nothing.

I did a much shorter – about 12 words, I think – version of that narrative for the column I wrote for the Freethinker yesterday.

“Sacked over a joke!” they cried. “No one is safe!”

Only ten.

Back to Bastian.

In a 2004 review of empirical research, Thomas Ford and Mark Ferguson[PDF] point out:

Disparagement humor (e.g., racist or sexist humor) is humor that denigrates, belittles, or maligns an individual or social group…[P]eople have become less willing to allow joke tellers “moral amnesty” for their derision of social out-groups through humor.

Sexist and other discriminatory disparaging humor takes a code for granted: its funniness relies on people recognizing the stereotypes that are the basis for the joke. It asks us to not take discriminatory stereotyping seriously. That’s not going to take the sting out of it.

In the right circumstances, among people who know and trust each other, parodic sexist disparaging humor can take the sting out of it, but that’s the only way it can. Hunt’s version met none of those criteria. (I’ve been seeing lots of the parodic kind on my Facebook wall, and indeed in comments here – but guess what, that’s not the same kind of thing as what Hunt did. At all.)

Ford and Ferguson concluded that jokes don’t create hostility to the outgroup where it doesn’t already exist. But the evidence, they said, showed that joking reinforces existing prejudice. If you joke about women and get away with it, those who are hostile to women will see this as social sanction for their views and behavior. The joke tellers don’t themselves have to be actively misogynist to end up encouraging others to be.

And haven’t we been seeing that as a result of Hunt’s “joke.”

There’s a lot to Bastian’s piece; I don’t want to crowd it all into one piece. More later.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Avaunt, demons

Jun 24th, 2015 3:31 pm | By

By Pliny the In Between:

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)