Notes and Comment Blog

How to measure proportion

Jun 19th, 2015 11:40 am | By

Katie Mack tweeted:

Katie Mack ‏@AstroKatie 4 hours ago
It’s amazing how much paranoid hyperbole the act of speaking out against sexism can elicit. …

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

What we have looked upon as safety

Jun 19th, 2015 11:09 am | By

Rebecca Carroll yesterday at Comment is Free.

Six black women were shot to death during a community prayer service by a young white man who allegedly declared: “You rape our women.”

These women and men welcomed a white man into their close-knit church, and likely encouraged others in their community to join and listen and pray and let God into their hearts.

I read somewhere else yesterday that during the hour discussion that preceded the terrorist attack, while the terrorist sat at the back of the church, people at the front several times urged him to join them. That fact breaks my heart.

And think of it. He sat there for an hour, staring ahead at a group of kind, warm people who tried to welcome him…and then he went ahead and took out his gun and shot them.

There is something inconsistent with the Charleston shooter’s alleged evocation of the historical myth of black man as beast and rapist of white women, and the fact that he killed mostly black women. Did he only shoot black women because there were no more black men to kill? Because black women birth, care for and love black men? Or because he didn’t see black women as women at all, and, as something less than women (and certainly lesser than white women), felt us undeserving of the same valiance he conjured on behalf of the women he claim to be protecting?

I can’t even begin to imagine why he did that. Why, or how; I can’t imagine how he did it, after that hour.

In the opening scene from Ava DuVerney’s film Selma, she captured the innocence of four black girls detonated in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Four black girls were just walking down the wooden steps to the basement for prayer meeting; DuVerney showed the light trickling through the stained glass window, let us listen to them talk about their hair and how they do it and how they like it, showed us their Sunday clothes pressed and colorful. And then, in the movie as in our history, they were just dead.

The girls killed in Birmingham in 1963 are the child forebearers of the grown women killed in Charleston in 2015, in a country where our ancestors keep getting younger and younger because violence too often prevents us from getting older, from growing fully into our lives. Somehow, protecting the world from black men has, far too often, meant killing, beating and raping black women and girls. So we have prayed in solidarity and what we have looked upon as safety. On Wednesday, a white man took that from us, too. What remains to be seen is whether the law and this country will recognize that there is now nothing left to take from us.

Nowhere is safe.

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

Liars for Wall Street

Jun 19th, 2015 10:25 am | By

The Wall Street Journal says hey, at least this wasn’t institutionalized racism. Media Matters quotes:

Amid the horror of Charleston, it is also important to note that the U.S., notably the South, has moved forward to replace the system that enabled racist killings like those in the Birmingham church.

Back then and before, the institutions of government–police, courts, organized segregation–often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.

The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof’s quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as “a dark part of our history.” Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.

Then where did the terrorist come from? Is he a pod from outer space?

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

Disproportionate to what?

Jun 19th, 2015 10:08 am | By

While we’re on the subject of Famous Pale Male Scientists Defending Other Famous Pale Male Scientists From Witchy Baying Feminists, there’s also Brian Cox.

The scientist and broadcaster Prof Brian Cox has said it was wrong the way a Nobel laureate scientist was “hounded out” of his university post over controversial comments he made about women working in laboratories.

Cox said the remarks by Sir Tim Hunt had been “very ill-advised” but that the response – which saw him give up positions at University College London (UCL) and the Royal Society – had been disproportionate.

Disproportionate to what?

UCL and the Royal Society want to attract women to science. They don’t want to repel women from science. They don’t want to alienate women already in science. So why is it disproportionate for them to dump a Famous Pale Male Scientist who goes to a conference in a foreign country and gives a talk in which he talks about women as if they were pets or small children?

Here’s what the Royal Society said:

Sir Tim Hunt has today contacted the Royal Society to offer his resignation from the Society’s Biological Sciences Awards Committee. The Society has accepted that resignation.

It was an awards committee. Is it “disproportional” that they allowed him to resign from that? Is it “disproportional” if they nudged him to resign?

Think about it. He’s on the committee, and he made those dismissive remarks about women…so how trustworthy does the committee appear? Not very. Maybe it would pass over women who should get awards, or maybe it would give awards to women who shouldn’t get them. It’s the wrong sort of committee for Sir Tim Hunt to be on.

I don’t see the disproportion.

The rest of what the RS said:

Sir Tim Hunt’s recent comments relating to women in science have no place in science. The Royal Society believes that too many talented individuals do not fulfil their scientific potential because of issues such as gender discrimination and the Society is committed to helping to put this right.

Sir Tim Hunt has made exceptional contributions to science in terms of his own research on the cell cycle and its implications for our understanding of cancer which led to the award of the Nobel Prize. Over the years he has also supported the careers of many young researchers, often travelling tirelessly to support young people all over the world. It is the great respect that he has earned for his work that has made his recent comments so disappointing, comments he now recognises were unacceptable.

He hasn’t been sent to the North Pole, he’s simply resigned from a committee.

Back to Brian Cox.

Cox acknowledged that while there was a serious issue about the “perceived air of sexism” that deterred some women from pursuing careers in science, he said that he did not believe Hunt should have been treated in the way that he was.

Cox said Hunt was “good person and a great scientist” and that as a man in his 70s, it was perhaps not surprising that Hunt was “slightly unreconstructed”.

That’s not the issue. The point isn’t to punish him, it’s to make UCL and the RS not hostile to women in that particular way. That’s a sensible and reasonable goal. It’s a more important goal than protecting the feelings of Sir Tim Hunt in the wake of his dismissive remarks. I don’t think Brian Cox should be putting Hunt’s feelings ahead of efforts to remove obstacles to women in science.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme: “You can make the argument that senior figures in science have to be first of all aware that there is a central problem of women progressing up to the highest levels of science and secondly, therefore, have to be mindful of that and careful of their language.

“On the other side of course, there is the wider problem of trial by social media. People do make ill-advised comments from time to time so is it appropriate to hound someone out of their position at a university or indeed is it appropriate for the university to react in the way UCL in this case did and ask someone to resign or threaten to sack them?”

If it had been a spontaneous remark at the pub, no. But it wasn’t. It was a prepared talk at a professional conference. It’s extraordinary the way defenders of Hunt keep minimizing it. It’s extraordinary that Cox apparently can’t see the problem with Hunt’s saying essentially that women are a big pain in the ass in the lab and should be shunted off into their own labs by themselves. At a professional conference.

“To have a Nobel prize winner – and by all accounts a great scientist and a good person – being hounded out of a position at UCL after all those years of good work and science, I think that’s wrong and disproportionate – with the caveats I mentioned.”

Cox acknowledged that there were problems in getting young women to take up careers in science and engineering, and said there were “big problems” that needed to be addressed when it came to career progression for women.

“There is a problem in science and engineering and the problem is that we don’t have enough women going into certain areas, particularly engineering,” he said.

And blah blah blah blah, but having said that – Tim Hunt should still have those positions from which to make dismissive remarks about women at professional conferences.


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

“The baying witch-hunt”

Jun 19th, 2015 8:27 am | By

Richard Dawkins is at it again and still – he is still at it, and he has produced another specific instance of it. The “it” in question is his determined, condescending, angry, vindictive attack on feminism. (Why “vindictive”? Because to all appearances it started with Dear Muslima, and he’s made it very obvious that he’s deeply pissed off at all of us who pushed back against Dear Muslima.)

We saw him at it just a few days ago, in a pair of tweets he sent on Sunday, perhaps while still at the CFI Reason for Change conference. Maybe he sent them Sunday morning while listening to Stephen Law’s talk – I know he was there because he was the first to ask a question at the end. I was there too. If only I’d known I could have flung myself at him and knocked the phone or tablet from his hands, thus saving him from yet another self-exposure as a raging anti-feminist bully. (Yes, bully. He’s using his fame and star status to do what he can to repress feminism and incite his fans to do even more of that. I know he knows that because I fucking told him so.)

Those tweets again:

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins Jun 14
“A moment to savour”? Really? Please, Guardian, could we just lighten up on the witch-hunts? #ReinstateTimHunt.

Richard Dawkins ‏@RichardDawkins Jun 14
@SquashedLumps I didn’t like Tim Hunt’s joke. But I loathe and detest mob rule and witch hunts and politically correct feeding frenzies.

Now he’s sent the content of the tweets to The Times. Yes really: he sent a letter to The Times complaining of a “baying witch hunt.” He actually did that.

Let me pause before quoting the whole letter to point out what he’s doing here. He’s blowing a deeply disgusting dog whistle by using the word “witch” in this context. It’s interesting, in an emetic way, that he can’t seem to stop himself using the word “witch” whenever he gets in a rage at feminist women. Remember “I promise you I’m not exaggerating” last summer? And now again. He’s invoking both the inquisitorial mindset that triggers witch hunts, and the link between women and perceived witches. It’s a filthy business, and he needs to stop.

Now his letter to the Times:

Sir, Along with many others, I didn’t like Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, but “disproportionate” would be a huge underestimate of the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness. A writer in The Guardian even described it as “a moment to savour.” To “savour” a moment of human misery — to “savour” the hounding of one of our most distinguished scientists — goes beyond schadenfreude and spills over into cruelty.

Professor Richard Dawkins, FRS


To repeat what I’ve said before:

This wasn’t some private “joke” at a dinner table. This was something Hunt said in a talk at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea. It was something he said in his official capacity as a Top scientist. It was patronizing and dismissive of women.

This is not some small gaffe. It’s not for other Top male white scientists to blow it off, because male white scientists have never had to face that particular kind of patronizing dismissal from people who are of the “superior” sex and/or race to them. Dawkins doesn’t know anything about the way patronizing dismissal impedes people of “inferior” race and/or sex, because that kind of patronizing dismissal has never impeded him. That’s very pleasant for him, and he’s made excellent use of it as an educator until recently, but it still means he should not weigh in to call us witches or witch-hunters when we fight back. He should stop.

Last Friday evening I watched him receive a lifetime achievement award at the CFI Reason for Change conference. I didn’t enjoy it much, because he has made so much of his achievement lately be about bullying feminist women. I think it’s very sad that he’s so determined to add that to his CV and thus to put a big ugly blot on it. I also think it’s shameful of him.

When he made his remarks on receiving the award, he made some tiresome quip about the Judean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judea haw haw because he’s never made that joke before, sigh. But he also said he was very sorry about the divisions among us. He said it quickly and without elaborating and then moved on, but he said it.

But he clearly didn’t mean a word of it.

I’m disgusted. I know that’s obvious, but I want to spell it out anyway. I think his campaign against feminism is disgusting and contemptible and I think he should stop.

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

What terrorists destroy

Jun 18th, 2015 5:27 pm | By

Back to BuzzFeed’s reporting on the victims of the terrorist attack at Emanuel AME church in Charleston.

More on Cynthia Hurd, the librarian.

[Her brother Malcolm] Graham, a former state senator, told the Charlotte Observer that his sister would have turned 55 on Sunday.

He said it was “typical” of her to be at the church on Sunday. He also fondly described her as a “nerd” who got a masters in library science from the University of South Carolina.

Hurd lived with her husband Steve in the east side of Charleston, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Graham, who last saw his sister in May when she attended his daughter’s graduation, said she always acted like his mother. “She was the one who brought us closer,” Graham told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s so senseless. She didn’t deserve it.”

Susie Jackson

Susie Jackson, 87, was also a victim of the attack, the coroner confirmed. She was a member of the Eastern Light Chapter No. 360 Order of the Eastern Star, according to a community activist on Twitter.

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I suppose she was “taking over our country” was she?

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

The Twitterstorm that wasn’t

Jun 18th, 2015 5:10 pm | By

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who started the #distractinglysexy hashtag, explains that she didn’t get Tim Hunt kicked out of anything and neither did the hashtag.

Despite claims that the response to Hunt’s comments constituted an online “march of the feminist bullies”, no one who was part of this humorous attempt to highlight the varied and complex work of female scientists called for Hunt’s resignation or hounded him online, but that was the way it was framed.

There were undoubtedly unpleasant people on social media crowing about the man’s downfall but as far as I could see the discussion was largely jocular and – owing to the fact that many of the female scientists were posting photos under their own names – mostly professional.

The Hunt controversy continues to make headlines, with Boris Johnson and Brian Cox wading in this week as the backlash to the backlash. I even heard it said on Radio 4 this morning that “Tim Hunt was hounded from his job by a Twitterstorm”. This is patently not the case.

I’ve seen serious people who should know better Twitter-moaning about the feminist “witch hunts” and the desecration of the memory of John Stuart Mill. But that’s not what happened.

In actual fact it was clearly embarrassment on the part of the scientific community at his retrograde sexism, and that sexism being splashed across the media, which led to pressure on him to resign. University College London, where Hunt held a professorship before his resignation and which was the first university to admit women on the same terms as men, would have no truck with comments such as Hunt’s. No doubt concern about an international PR disaster played a part, but anyone who knows anything about the university’s founding principles would have expected this result, whether justified or not.

And that’s just normal for people who have jobs and positions and titles. Tenure protects academics, but Hunt wasn’t pushed out of any tenured jobs – he has already retired from those.

Twitter also gives the illusion of reversing the normal power dynamics. Suddenly powerful people – often men – and corporations, cannot ignore the outraged voices of the “rest” of the population. Yet this is an illusion. By blaming the downfall of Hunt on mobs of internet feminists, the media are ascribing them power, transforming everyone on social media with feelings about sexism into a dangerous monolith that threatens free speech. They must then be criticised and undermined, rendering them even less powerful than before.

Heads we win, tails you lose, neener-neener.

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

Two of the nine

Jun 18th, 2015 1:32 pm | By

I can’t look at this without losing it but we all should be losing it, so.

BuzzFeed: the victims of the terrorist shooting at Emanuel AME church in Charleston:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

A 45-year-old mother of three, reverend, and high school track coach, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, was killed while attending a prayer group at Emanuel AME Church.

Coleman-Singleton coached the girls track team at Goose Creek High School. The school remembered her Thursday with a post on its Facebook page.

Her cousin, Constance Kinder, told BuzzFeed News that Coleman-Singleton was a “beautiful spirit.”

She has a Facebook page. She has a bit-strips comic of herself:

Cynthia Hurd

Cynthia Hurd, a librarian, was killed in the shooting, the Charleston County Public Library (CCPL), confirmed Thursday.

Hurd, 54, worked at the public library for 31 years and was serving as the manager at St. Andrews Regional library since 2011.

“Cynthia was a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth,” the CCPL said in a statement.

Cynthia Hurd

That’s all I can do for now. God damn it.


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

Guest post: This is the point that cis people miss

Jun 18th, 2015 12:48 pm | By

AMM’s very powerful follow-up comment:

Rob @14

@9: It’s like when my father convinced me (for an afternoon) that I could sell stuff door-to-door. I went out and canvased the neighborhood. And I realized: it’s just not me. I am not, cut out to be a salesman

@10: AMM, I love that analogy.
I don’t. Facile as it may seem this is because being a salesperson (in the widest sense) is a learnt skill, not a state of being. People we call naturals at sales simply have personalities that better enable them to quickly get over the hump of sucking at it and finding it hard. They probably learn how as kids. It’s closely linked to performing (acting). For the rest of us we practice, try and eventually get at least tolerably good at sales, but never actually enjoy it, even if we get satisfaction from our success.

You missed the point. Could I have learned to be a salesman if my life had depended upon it? Probably.

But I would have hated it. I would have had to spend every day stomping down my revulsion at what I was doing. I would have died inside, and at some point felt like dying was better than living. At some point, it wouldn’t have mattered whether I killed myself or not. I figured that out in a half-hour. And Rob, if you don’t believe I could figure that out in that short of a time, you simply have no clue, you are one of those “knows not, and knows not that he knows not.”

This is the point that cis people miss. They don’t seem to understand what it is like to feel revulsion at having to live as one’s assigned sex to the point that one has to deaden oneself and become an empty shell and maybe come to the realization that being alive is worse than being dead. Most trans people learn to act out their assigned gender role and to believe that that’s what life is like. Many go to extraordinary lengths to silence that inner voice and squeeze themselves into being what everyone tells them they are. But at some point, it just doesn’t work any more. At some point, there is nothing that society and life can reward or threaten you with that makes it worth going on that way.

How much of it is biology? How much is social gender BS? How much of it is one’s nature? Would I feel less alienated from myself if I lived in some sort of feminist gender-free utopia? Who knows? And who cares? We are what we are, however we got that way, and we have to live (or not) in the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. If transition (medical and/or social) makes us feel less alienated from ourselves, if living as genderqueer or asking to be referred to as “It” makes us feel less revulsion at ourselves, then I don’t care what the theorists and scientists and feminist pontiffs and Dr. Knowitalls have to say, we’ll take it.

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

Guest post: A person, not an abstract

Jun 18th, 2015 12:04 pm | By

Next, a comment by besomyka.

We seem to conflate sex and gender in these discussions even though we know better. When we say I feel or don’t feel like a woman, for example. Do you mean woman in the social constructed sense, the stochastic physical sense? What?

When I say I’m a woman, I happen to mean both. I think that if you considered me a woman, that your mental shortcuts about what that meant would be more true about me than the other option. Is it perfect? No, of course not. I’m a person, not an abstract. But it IS more accurate.

I also mean it physically. I am quite sure that if we destroyed the concept of gender completely, that I’d still have dysphoria centered on my body. My heart would ache seeing a pregnant woman, knowing that it could never be me. I would have still felt so rigid hugging people without a bosom of my own. I know I’d still feel like a hollow mannequin when I looked in the mirror.

I know that within 3 weeks of starting HRT, even when other people still saw me as ‘a guy’, my depression and dysphoria all but vanished. Instead, over the last few years, I’ve grown into myself. I’ve become real. A person.

Here’s what I know is true for me. When society said pretty girls shouldn’t have body hair, something deep inside whispered, “Hey, they are talking about you.” Like everyone, I internalized the messages that society forces on us, and like everyone some of those applied to me, and some didn’t. What I, instinctively, applied to myself is remarkably similar to what other women my age applied to themselves.

To say I’m not a woman is to deny that essential part of me. I mean, look, I spent literal DECADES trying to deny that part of myself, to rationalize it away… all that did was cause me pain. I am a woman, that’s the truth.

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

Guest post: That something just doesn’t fit

Jun 18th, 2015 11:22 am | By

Now I’ve caught up somewhat after the conference, so I can do what several people requested and make guest posts of some of the comments from the Discomfort with the more social aspects of gender discussion last week.

I’ll start with one by AMM:

There’s something that a lot of trans people report and I’m becoming aware of in myself that doesn’t get mentioned in feminist discussions of gender.

It’s that feeling that at some fundamental level, you just don’t belong with the people you share a birth gender with, and in many cases you don’t feel right in your body. That something just doesn’t fit, no matter how perfectly you may seem to fit. And when you transition, medically and/or socially, you just feel right for once.

I haven’t transitioned yet, so I can’t say for sure how I’ll feel, but I know that I have _never_ felt at home with being a man or having a male body, and I’ve tried every way I can think of for 60 years. It’s like when my father convinced me (for an afternoon) that I could sell stuff door-to-door. I went out and canvased the neighborhood. And I realized: it’s just not me. I am not cut out to be a salesman. It’s the same thing with being male. I have yet to find anything about being a man (as opposed to a generic human being) that I can relate to. I can intellectualize it, but I can’t feel it. Whereas when I read about or hear women’s experiences, it fits.

Julia Serano describes this a lot better than I can in her book (Whipping Girl), and besides, she’s transitioned, so she can compare before and after.

I get the impression that cis people don’t experience the same sort of not-rightness. Maybe there’s something deep inside, independent of all the social constructions, that just works right for cis people and doesn’t for trans people, and, for lack of any better language, we call it gender.

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

Mr Pinckney came from a family of civil rights activists and leaders

Jun 18th, 2015 10:44 am | By

The BBC profiles pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney.

A church pastor and a state senator, Clementa Pinckney spoke of his politics as an extension of his religious mission, as another way of serving the people around him.

“Our calling is not just within the walls of the congregation,” he said. “We are part of the life and community in which our congregation resides.”

On Wednesday evening, Mr Pinckney was shot dead among those he had pledged to serve – one of nine victims of a gun attack on the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 41-year-old pastor had begun preaching at the age of 13. He was also a rising star of Democrat[ic] politics in a state long dominated by Republicans.

He was the youngest African-American in South Carolina’s history to be elected to the legislature. He had been a student at the state university, a Lutheran seminary, as well as at Princeton University.

Now all that’s gone, thanks to a young racist whose daddy gave him a gun for Christmas.

We’re right up there with Bangladesh for hateful murderous targeted violence.

Mr Pinckney came from a family of civil rights activists and leaders. Among them were campaigners for the desegregation of school buses and for electoral reforms that would pave the way for the emergence of black politicians.

In 1998, the veteran Washington Post political reporter, David Broder, met Mr Pinckney and described him as a “spirit-lifter”.

“Our people expect the best of us,” the young politician told the reporter. “They send us to take care of the people’s business, and those of us who take hold of that responsibility understand that’s what it’s really about.”

Earlier this year, Mr Pinckney appeared at rallies to protest at the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot dead by a police officer in Charleston.

So the young racist with the gun executed him, just as the theocrats with machetes executed Avijit Roy and almost executed Asif Mohiuddin.

Mr Pinckney left a wife and two children.

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

TyWanza Sanders

Jun 18th, 2015 10:31 am | By

Murdered in the Charleston AME church shootings.

Shaun King ‏@ShaunKing 24 minutes ago
This is TyWanza Sanders. Killed in the #CharlestonShooting.

A great young brother. Recent Allen University grad.

I’m reminded of the photos of the Garissa victims – so many young vibrant hopeful students with plans and dreams.

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

In custody

Jun 18th, 2015 9:29 am | By

Dylann Roof has been arrested. As many of my friends are pointing out on Twitter and Facebook, he won’t be tortured or raped or murdered in custody. He’ll be safe and sound.

The Post and Courier ‏@postandcourier 2h2 hours ago
.@FBI confirms that Dylann Roof, 21, of #Columbia area is suspect in #CharlestonShooting. #chsnews

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 The SPLC has been providing information:

Photo of #CharlestonShooting suspect Dylann Roof shows patch of South African apartheid era flag