March 2009

Cosmo Magazine Hits A New Low

Fashion magazines, being the dregs of our modern society, are typically beneath my notice. Fashion magazines feed on self loathing the way lampreys feed on the sunken carcasses of whales. Asking a fashion magazine if you look normal is like asking McDonald's if you should have a cheeseburger. When I think about fashion magazines, my first thought is of a giant machine, roaring and clanking, snatching women up and grinding them into a gritty red paste. And the women walk into it voluntarily. They pay money for the experience. Even so, it has been brought to my attention that Cosmopolitan Magazine has truly gone beyond the pale with their most recent feature, titled "A Naked Woman Walks Into A Bar..." The article itself is not online, but blogger Rachel Hills gives an excellent overview in her article here. The article does what it says on the tin. The author (who should be very, very ashamed of themselves) brought a naked woman to a bar, and asked the bar patrons(both male and female) to criticize her appearance.

Women (Aren't) In Tech, Either

I've been digesting two articles related to yesterday's post. A good one and a bad one, both from Harvard. The bad one is Reform, vigilance needed to boost women in science, by Alvin Powell. Powell gives an overview of what many people have noticed: the pipeline is fine, but science and tech careers lose women at transitional stages from that point onwards. Interest in science is evenly split between boys and girls for grades K through 12, but at each educational transition, huge amounts of women opt out of the science track. Unfortunately, Powell wraps up with the conclusion that, because women make babies, their career loss is due to conflicts in schedules between jobs and parenting careers. I had great hopes for this article at first, but I had to shake my head at the ending. "Women will make babies and drop out" is one of the great touchstones of institutionalized sexism in the workplace. Young women are less likely to be hired, because the assumption is that they will leave in five years to start a family.

Women (Aren't) In Science: Kirshenbaum's Dilemma

This Metafilter thread spawned a collection of interesting links about the sexism which seems to be deeply embedded in the cultures of science and academia. It started with a blog post by Discover science blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum, who has been constantly dogged by sexist comments, in her careers both as a scientist and as a blogger. Near the end of her article, Kirshenbaum talks about how at one point she grew so tired of the sexist comments that she decided to remove her profile picture from her blog posts. She found relief in this anonymity, and I find it interesting that the absence of her picture greatly reduced the amount of sexist comments. Kirshenbaum is an attractive woman, and including a perfectly normal (i.e. not cheesecake) picture with her article seemed to draw in the trolls, like bulls to a matador's fluttering cape. Fellow science blogger P. Z.

Birth Mothers in the Slipstream of the Culture Wars

Several interesting links in this Metafilter thread about the issue I discussed yesterday. These were links to blog posts by women who gave up their babies for adoption, and found themselves inhabiting a strange blind spot in our collective consciousness. Much hay is made by both sides of the debate from the emotional consequences of terminating a pregnancy. The pro-choice side emphasizes the terrible nature of the decision, the loneliness women feel as they sit at home weighing their options, and the shame which is heaped upon them by picketers as they walk into the reproductive health clinic. The anti-choice side uses all of these things as an indicator that women shouldn't do that. (As if "you'll feel bad" is a valid reason for not making any decision, much less one as weighty as deciding whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.) Neither side has apparently given much thought to the plight of women who choose the adoption route.

They Just Can't Lay Off The Shame

I think a lot of us (myself included) felt that Obama's election victory meant an end to conservatism. The right wing dragon had been slain, ushering in a new era of respect and freedom and legislation that made some kind of ethical sense. Alas, this is not the case. Today The Washington Times ran an article about "pre abortion ultrasounds." It turns out (I didn't realize this) that sixteen states already have laws on the books which require doctors to show ultrasounds to women who have made the decision to seek an abortion. And eleven more states are looking to follow suit. The point of this legislation is embarrassingly naked. Its aim is to shame and/or frighten women into changing their minds about having an abortion. It furthermore assumes that all of the research and thinking and soul-searching and logical arguments that a woman goes through before making her decision are so flimsy that they can be easily countered by a picture of the fetus.

Girl Scouts of America to Enterprising Girl Scout: "Stop It"

You all know I can't get enough of controversy about the Girl Scouts. On the one hand, the Girl Scouts teach female empowerment and provide a safe venue for girls' voices to be heard. And while the Boy Scouts continue to exclude homosexual men, the Girl Scouts have taken care to provide anti-discrimination policies and support an open-minded view of lesbianism. On the other hand, the organization callously sends girls out to do their bidding by selling those cookies, which are themselves incredibly unhealthy and bad for the rainforests. In other words, the Girl Scouts are interesting. I love things that are interesting. Here's the latest thing which I find interesting. Recently an eight year old Girl Scout named Wild Freeborn decided to hit the big time with cookie sales by moving her sales pitch online. She posted a YouTube video with her sales pitch, and her father (who works for a web design firm) helped her set up an online ordering system.

The Male Gaze And Axe Grooming Products: Everyone Loses

It's almost trite to apply the concept of the male gaze to advertising, and yet I shall. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept (which first debuted in the mid-70s as part of film criticism, then rapidly spread to other media), Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog has an excellent introduction here. The only way I can bring myself to reconcile a world in which the Axe grooming product ads exist is to imagine that they are in fact the result of a calculating attempt to gain attention by infuriating everyone. Strangely enough, this thought actually makes me feel better. I have difficulty deciding which Axe commercial is the most disturbing. If I were held at gunpoint for the question, I would have to tentatively identify the Dark Temptation Body Spray ad. (Watch it here on YouTube, if you dare.) This is a body spray which I guess smells like chocolate.

Craigslist Cuts Prostitution Ads 90%

Craigslist recently announced that the use of two simple security measures has helped cut the number of postings on its "Erotic Services" boards by 90%. The graph for the decline is phenomenal, and illustrates the drop across the board, in all of the major cities which Craigslist services. Many people are still wondering why Craigslist doesn't shut down its "Erotic Services" section entirely. Ars Technica has pointed out that the point of the "Erotic Services" board is to funnel those ads away from the rest of Craigslist, so it's likely to stay as a dumping ground. This logic hasn't prevented the Cook County Sheriff's Department from filing a lawsuit against Craigslist. Tired of seeing prostitution bust after bust sourced from Craigslist, the Chicago Sheriff's Department filed a suit against the company directly. (A Craigslist spokesman responded to the suit with a suitably hurt statement.) Craigslist has long taken the stand that it's just the marketplace, and that Craigslist isn't responsible for what happens there.

Breast Cancer: We're Aware, But About The Right Things?

A few nights ago, I scoffed at a television ad for breast cancer "awareness." Surely everyone is aware of breast cancer by now! In a funny quirk of synchronicity, later that day I stumbled across an online copy of Barbara Ehrenreich's article, "Welcome to Cancerland." I sheepishly read that, "Thirty years ago [...] breast cancer was a dread secret, endured in silence and euphemized in obituaries as a "long illness."" And, "when post-mastectomy patients first proposed meeting in support groups in the mid-1970s, the American Cancer Society responded with a firm and fatherly "no."" Yay, to live in modern times! Where everything is out in the open! But wait... later in the article, Ehrenreich essentially points out that everyone's racing for the CURE. But who's racing for the CAUSE? Ah, that's a much thornier issue. Don't get me wrong - a cure for breast cancer would be great. But considering the state of research today, I sadly doubt that a cure will be found within my lifetime.

Single Gender Classrooms - Useful or Not?

This morning I watched a discussion of single gender classrooms on Good Morning America. To my surprise, Latifa Lyles, Vice President of the National Organization for Women, was there to advocate for the "con" side. The arguments in favor of single gender classrooms generally run along the lines of, "they allow girls and boys to concentrate without the distractions of the other gender." Boys complain that girls chatter too much; girls complain that boys shout and run around too much. And there have been some studies which indicate that girls are less likely to raise their hand in class when boys are about. Either because they don't want to look "too smart," or because boys tend to be more aggressive, and always raise their hands first. I looked around to see what the prevailing conventional wisdom was on this issue. To my complete lack of surprise, there isn't any. There are a lot of studies which show that kids perform better in single gender classrooms, but if you read between the lines, there are other factors that the studies don't control for.