Quotulatiousness

March 1, 2015

Kay S. Hymowitz asks “How smart is 50 Shades of Grey?”

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Writing in City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz discusses what the book and movie say about modern women:

In her standup act, comedian Whitney Cummings scoffs at the claim that men like strong women. “Sorry, I’ve watched porn,” she says. “Men like Asian schoolgirls with duct tape on their mouths.” In that vein, consider the popular idea that women want sensitive men who do the laundry without being told. Sorry, I’ve read — and now watched — 50 Shades of Grey. Women like men who tie them up and flog them in a Red Room of Pain. With duct tape on their mouths.

I’m only half-kidding. The film’s reviews, like the reviews of E.L. James’s 2011 book, are full of well-deserved snark about its inane dialogue, flat characters, and contrived plot. But the story’s wild popularity suggests that James knows something most of us don’t about the mix of lust, romantic longing, and post-feminist morality that swirls inside the brains of young women today.

It’s a remarkable coincidence that this particular pornographic fantasy has seized the global female imagination at the same moment that rape and sexual violence against women has become a leading social justice cause. The coincidence is heightened by the fact that the story’s protagonist, Anastasia Steele, is a coed on the cusp of graduation. She is in many respects an ordinary, modern college girl. She’s independent, a little boozy, cash-strapped, and working her way through school in a hardware store. She drives a battered Volkswagen beetle. Yes, she is a virgin. But that’s not because she’s a prude — “Holy crap, no!” as the feisty heroine would put it. She just hasn’t found a guy who pushes her buttons. That is, until she sacrifices her virginity and good judgment to the highly practiced sexual power of the brooding and distinctly un-politically-correct billionaire Christian Grey, a man of “singular tastes.”

[…]

But if James takes care to make the sex between Christian and Ana so consensual it could pass muster at University of California campus tribunals, she perhaps unwittingly points to the limitations of such consent. Though James wrote her novel before the current spate of questionable campus rape accusations, she all but predicted them. Ana’s consent is shaped not by enthusiasm for Christian’s predilections, but by her desire not to lose him. Consent seems a misleading word to describe this state of mind.

The prevalence of pornography — and, now, of 50 Shades itself — is bound to fuel this sort of youthful confusion. We can and should prize consent, but most 18-year-olds know little about their own motivations. Ply young men and women with images of extreme sexual adventure, barrels of liquor, and empty, unsupervised dorm rooms, and sexual assault is bound to remain in the headlines.

February 27, 2015

The changes in language describing changing gender

Filed under: Health,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Charlotte Allen discusses how quickly the language has changed when talking about transsexuality over a very short time:

In 2012 the board of trustees of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) approved a set of proposed revisions to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the new version is the DSM-5), designed to remove the stigma of mental illness from the transgender classification. Earlier versions of the DSM had defined transgenderism as “gender identity disorder,” which seemed to imply illness. The DSM-5 changed that term to “gender dysphoria.” The change paralleled the association’s removal of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. It signaled that whatever problems transgenders might experience were not due to a pathological misconception that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched but to the fact that their bodies and gender identities were mismatched. Hormones, surgery, cosmetics, and different clothes might still be the “cure” (enabling transgenders to qualify for medical reimbursement for a variety of procedures), but the APA was making it clear, as far as it was concerned, that the problem was not inside the transgender’s head.

The medical evidence for a mismatch between brains and bodies is ambiguous. The two studies cited most frequently by transgender activists, published in 1995 and 2000, examined the brains of a total of seven male-to-female transgenders and found that a region of the hypothalamus, an almond-shaped area of the brain that controls the release of hormones by the pituitary gland, was female-typical in those brains. But those studies have been criticized for not controlling for the estrogen​—​which affects the size of the hypothalamus​—​that most male-to-female transgenders take daily in order to maintain their feminine appearance.

Accompanying the APA’s change of classification was a change of vocabulary. Ever since the days of Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989), the World War II serviceman whose surgery in Denmark during the early 1950s brought transgenderism under the media spotlight for the first time, the procedure was known in popular parlance as a “sex change operation.” Then in the 1990s, when the idea of one’s “gender” as something distinct from one’s biological sex began to take hold (thanks to the efforts of academic feminists and other postmodernists, who argued that gender is “socially constructed”), the preferred term became “gender reassignment surgery.” Now the preferred phrase seems to be “gender confirmation surgery.” The change in terminology renders more credible transpeople’s claims to have always belonged to the gender to which they have transitioned.

The once commonly used word “transsexual” has thus become passé ​—​ even verboten in the most sensitive circles —​ just during the past decade. For example, Washington Post reporter Abby Ohlheiser issued a severe scolding to news media for using the word “transsexual” in reference to a 27-year-old male-to-female victim of a grisly murder and dismemberment at the hands of her 28-year-old male lover (who subsequently committed suicide) in Brisbane, Australia, in October 2014. “Although some individuals do identify as ‘transsexual,’ the term is often viewed as old-fashioned and not an appropriate umbrella word,” Ohlheiser wrote in a column deriding the coverage of the crime as “transphobic.” Ohlheiser also objected to media describing the victim, Mayang Prasetyo, as a “prostitute” (Prasetyo had been working as an escort before her death) and reproducing photos of Prasetyo’s busty self clad in a tiny swimsuit that she had posted on the Internet. “Many of the articles covering the murder are laden with provocative photographs of the victim in a bikini, as if any story about a trans person is an excuse to view and scrutinize trans bodies,” Ohlheiser wrote.

February 20, 2015

The not-so-binary nature of sex

Filed under: Health,Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Nature, Claire Ainsworth explains why it’s becoming more difficult to discuss sex as a binary:

Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD.

When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. What’s more, new technologies in DNA sequencing and cell biology are revealing that almost everyone is, to varying degrees, a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some with a sex that might not match that of the rest of their body. Some studies even suggest that the sex of each cell drives its behaviour, through a complicated network of molecular interactions. “I think there’s much greater diversity within male or female, and there is certainly an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure,” says John Achermann, who studies sex development and endocrinology at University College London’s Institute of Child Health.

These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person’s legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female.

“The main problem with a strong dichotomy is that there are intermediate cases that push the limits and ask us to figure out exactly where the dividing line is between males and females,” says Arthur Arnold at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies biological sex differences. “And that’s often a very difficult problem, because sex can be defined a number of ways.”

QotD: Post-modern conspiracy theories

Filed under: Humour,Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To the feminists and their allies we owe the coining of the phrase “heteronormative,” which describes the moral terror that all good people are expected to feel for walking around with their bigoted heads full of the notion that, however tolerant or even indulgent we may be of our more exotically inclined friends and neighbors, there exists such a thing as sexual normalcy, and that our norms are related to that which is — what’s the word? — normal. Conservatives are of course inclined to account for the great variety of human life as a matter of fact if not as a matter of moral endorsement: William F. Buckley Jr., upon being told that at most 2 percent of the population is gay, replied that if that were really the case then he must know all of them personally. The heteronormative is right up there with “rape culture” and various distillations of “privilege” — white, male, etc. — that together form the rogues’ gallery populating progressives’ worldview, which is at heart a species of conspiracy in which such traditional malefactors as the Illuminati and the Bilderbergers have been replaced with disembodied malice that can be located anywhere and at any time it is convenient to do so.

Like the old-fashioned conspiracy theorists they so closely resemble, progressives regard any resistance to their risible claims regarding the all-pervasive power of patriarchy/heteronormalcy/white privilege/etc. as nothing more than evidence of the reach and strength of the conspiracy’s tentacles. A regular at a coffee shop I used to frequent was known to one and all as “Conspiracy Theory Larry,” and had an explanation for everything — everything — that was wrong with the world, and my derision was enough to convince him I was a junior-league Illuminatus. (I can only imagine that he was confirmed in his suspicion when I joined National Review, which after all was founded by this guy: “William F. Buckley Jr., the American publisher who heads the elite Janus mind-control project at NATO headquarters, was the most awful of all of them. [Ed: “Them” being reptilian shape-shifters.] Quite honestly he used his teeth a lot. He used to bite a lot. He got pleasure out of hurting people by biting them after he shape-shifted. To this very day I have an aversion to that kind of thing.” I suppose one would.) If forays into gender-role adventurism are met with so much as a raised eyebrow, it is, in the progressive mind, evidence of a monstrous evil. As in a good conspiracy theory, every evil must be in unity with every other evil, which is why progressives can see no difference between a social norm that assumes boys do not normally wear dresses and one that assumes homosexuals will be put into concentration camps.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Gender-Neutral Dating”, National Review, 2014-01-11

February 3, 2015

QotD: Sexuality in the late classical world

Filed under: History,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are two opposed beliefs about sexuality in the ancient world. Both are false, though not equally so. The first is that the ancient world fizzled out in an orgy of bum fun, and that we need to be careful not to let this happen to us. Where do you begin with a belief so completely unfounded on the evidence? I suppose you look to the evidence. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar both had a taste for all-male sex. So did Mark Antony. So did Hadrian. So had most of the famous Athenians — Euripides being one of its most notable enthusiasts. No signs there of moral or any other weakness. If Mark Antony came to a bad end, it was because he married an ambitious foreign woman.

A growing prejudice against all-male sex becomes visible in the fourth century, when Constantine established Christianity as the official faith. He made the first laws against it. Within a century, the Goths were across the Rhine and had sacked Rome. Oh, and one of Constantine’s own sons had a taste for Gothic boys!

It’s absurd to try correlating national greatness or decline with sexual customs. Ancient civilisation didn’t collapse because its rulers were too worn out from buggering each other to take up swords. The ultimate cause may have been a mild global cooling, which lowered the Malthusian ceiling. There was an undoubted growth of rural impoverishment that left populations open to the pandemic diseases that swept through the Mediterranean world from late in the second century. Population decline was then worsened by various forms of misgovernment, and by the need to hold frontiers that had only made sense in an age of economic and demographic expansion. Rather than bursting through in unstoppable floods, the barbarians seem eventually to have wandered, in small bands, into a demographic vacuum.

The second false belief is that the ancient world was one big al fresco bath house. I once watched a television documentary in which it was seriously maintained that straight sex was out of fashion in Athens during the classical period. I thought of writing in to ask what books the researchers had been reading.

Because it lasted over a thousand years, and flourished on three continents, you should be careful with generalisations about ancient civilisation. But one good generalisation is that free men were expected to marry and beget children. These were societies with high death rates. They needed high birth rates not to die out. They particularly needed large numbers of young men to fight in their endemic wars of conquest or survival. Those men who wouldn’t breed were sometimes punished. Those who couldn’t were expected to adopt the surplus children of their poorer friends and relatives.

There were also strong prejudices against men who took the passive role in oral and anal sex. Take, for example, this epigram somewhere in Martial:

Secti podicis usque ad umbilicum
Nullas reliquias habet Charinus
Et prurit tamen usque ad umbilicum.
O quanta scabie miser laborat:
Culum non habet, est tamen cinaedus.

[Of his anus, split right up to the belly button,
Nothing remains to Charinus.
And still he longs for it right up to his belly button.
O behold the poor dear’s itching:
No arse left, yet still he longs to be fucked.]

On the other hand, the ancients didn’t have our concept of gay and straight. Latin has a large and precise sexual vocabulary — though you won’t find meanings in the standard dictionaries. See, for example: Irrumator, one who presents his penis for sucking; Fellator, one who sucks; Pathicus, the passive partner in anal sex, Exoletus, the active partner; Cinaedus, a male prostitute; Catamitus, a boy prostitute or lover; Glabrarius, lover of smooth-skinned boys; Tribas, a woman with a clitoris large enough to serve as a penis — and so it continues. The Greek vocabulary is larger still. There is no word in either language that means “homosexual.” Sodomitus is a late word, brought in by the Christians, and may not have had its present meaning until deep into the middle ages.

So long as legitimate children were somehow begotten, and so long as he didn’t disgrace himself by taking the passive role, what else a free man did was legally and morally indifferent. Elsewhere in his works, Martial boasts of sleeping with boys, and scolds his wife for thinking ill of him. In Athens and some other classical city states, it was a social duty for men in the higher classes to have sexual affairs with adolescent boys. We all know about the Spartans. In Thebes, an army was formed of adult sex partners. If anyone had said that all-male sex was in itself wrong, he’d have been laughed at. The Jews, who did say this, were despised. The Christian Emperors may have made laws against it. They were mostly enforced against political enemies when no other charges were credible or convenient.

Indeed, while there was a prejudice, and sometimes laws, against sexual passivity, it’s obvious that, once in private, men did as they pleased. One of the fundamental rules of the man-boy affairs in Athens was no anal penetration and no fellatio. Sex was supposed to involve mutual masturbation or intercrural friction. You can imagine how that rule was kept in private. There were problems only if the truth got out. Philip of Macedon, for example, kept a boy as his lover. One day, in public, he poked the boy in the stomach and asked why he wasn’t yet pregnant. The boy was so outraged that he murdered the King.

Then we have slavery, and the total power of an owner over his slaves. A slave-owner could demand whatever he liked, and expect the world not to be told about what he liked. So long as they weren’t physically injured, slaves were universally expected to do as they were told and not complain. As for prostitution, Rome and the larger cities were filled with brothels offering every sexual act imaginable. When Bible quotes failed, Christians were warned away from the brothels on the grounds that they might accidentally sleep with their own abandoned and enslaved children.

Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake”, 2014-03-14.

January 17, 2015

QotD: “Radicalizing the Romanceless”

Filed under: Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Barry is using my second-favorite rhetorical device, apophasis, the practice of bringing up something by denying that it will be brought up. For example, “I think the American people deserve a clean debate, and that’s why I’m going to stick to the issues, rather than talking about the incident last April when my opponent was caught having sex with a goat. Anyway, let’s start with the tax rate…”

He is complaining about being single by saying that you can’t complain about being single – and, as a bonus, placating feminists by blaming the whole thing on the manosphere as a signal that he’s part of their tribe and so should not be hurt.

It almost worked. He only got one comment saying he was privileged and entitled (which he dismisses as hopefully a troll). But he did get some other comments that remind me of two of my other least favorite responses to “nice guys”.

First: “Nice guys don’t want love! They just want sex!”

One line disproof: if they wanted sex, they’d give a prostitute a couple bucks instead of spiralling into a giant depression.

Second: “You can’t compare this to, like, poor people who complain about being poor. Food and stuff are basic biological human needs! Sex isn’t essential for life! It’s an extra, like having a yacht, or a pet tiger!”

I know that feminists are not always the biggest fans of evolutionary psychology. But I feel like it takes a special level of unfamiliarity with the discipline to ask “Sure, evolution gave us an innate desire for material goods, but why would it give us an deep innate desire for pair-bonding and reproduction??!”

But maybe a less sarcastic response would be to point out Harry Harlow’s monkey studies. These studies – many of them so spectacularly unethical that they helped kickstart the modern lab-animals’-rights movement – included one in which monkeys were separated from their real mother and given a choice between two artifical “mothers” – a monkey-shaped piece of wire that provided milk but was cold and hard to the touch, and a soft cuddly cloth mother that provided no milk. The monkeys ended up “attaching” to the cloth mother and not the milk mother.

In other words – words that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has spent much time in a human body – companionship and warmth can be in some situations just as important as food and getting your more basic needs met. Friendship can meet some of that need, but for a lot of people it’s just not enough.

When your position commits you to saying “Love isn’t important to humans and we should demand people stop caring about whether or not they have it,” you need to take a really careful look in the mirror – assuming you even show up in one.

Scott Alexander, “Radicalizing the Romanceless”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-08-31.

January 10, 2015

Living with diphallia

Filed under: Health,Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

BBC Newsbeat on the plight of a poor American boy who lives a secret life due to his rare diphallia condition:

A man with two penises has been speaking to Newsbeat about living with the condition.

Known only as Triple D, the 25-year-old from the east coast of America claims to have had 1,000 sexual partners.

He suffers from diphallia which is a rare condition where a male is born with two penises.

According to a report by the BMJ — the global healthcare knowledge provider — one-in-five million males in the world are born this way.

[…]

Triple D describes himself as “very much bisexual” and has been in polyamorous relationships — sexual or romantic relationships that are not exclusive to one person.

He says his longest relationship was with a couple.

Everyday things like buying underwear are an issue — so he tells Newsbeat he doesn’t wear any.

Both penises are fully functioning. “I can urinate and ejaculate through both at the same time,” he explains.

“Entering into the porn industry has crossed my mind. I knew people who worked in the sex industry and some of them knew what I had, some had heard what I had.

“Nobody had seen it. I remember thinking about it but I don’t want to become a novelty. My dignity is priceless.”

Newsbeat has seen photographs which support Triple D’s claims but cannot independently verify his identity.

January 7, 2015

QotD: It’s all about the men

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Probably the most common stereotype of anti-sex worker feminists is that they’re all misandrists, and on the surface that certainly seems true. But a closer examination of the issue reveals a deeper motivation which more closely resembles an obsessive concern with men at the expense of women. Feminists are willing to deny models income in order to deny lads’ mags to men, and would rather see women in the porn industry unemployed rather than know that men can watch porn videos. “Sex trafficking” fetishists are willing to undermine the entire edifice of civil liberties for both sexes in order to stop men from having access to commercial sex. Anti-sex worker screeds go on and on about “ending men’s demand for sex”, or “teaching men they aren’t entitled to sex”, or “look at the awful things men say about ‘prostituted women’!” Men this, men that, men the other thing; men, men, Men, MEN, MEN! No matter how vociferously prohibitionists insist that their motive is women’s protection or “empowerment”, sex work prohibition has absolutely nothing to do with women: it’s all about the men.

Nearly every Western society has a long tradition of viewing sex as something “dirty” and “demeaning”; the idea of punishment is inextricably bound up with the concept of “correction”, so buried in the misandrist rhetoric spouted by prohibitionists is the notion that if Big Nanny just spanks men hard enough and often enough, they won’t have those dirty thoughts any more. The underlying pretext of punishing men for male sexuality, and restricting them from enjoying same, is not to hurt them but rather to “help” them by making them more like (asexual, idealized) women. To be sure, “fallen” women are to be “helped” as well wherever possible, but when it happens it’s merely a happy byproduct of the campaign to “improve” men; those women who refuse to be “saved” and to dutifully recite the feminist catechism thereafter will be thrown under the bus without the slightest hesitation.

Maggie McNeill, “All About the Men”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-05-09.

January 6, 2015

The amazing – and scary – power of testosterone

Filed under: Health,Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

A throw-away comment on the experiences of female-to-male transgender people by Scott Alexander:

… I could hunt down all of the stories of trans men who start taking testosterone, switch to a more male sex drive, and are suddenly like “OH MY GOD I SUDDENLY REALIZE WHAT MALE HORNINESS IS LIKE I THOUGHT I KNEW SEXUAL FRUSTRATION BEFORE BUT I REALLY REALLY DIDN’T HOW DO YOU PEOPLE LIVE WITH THIS?”

The author of the last link has this to say about the impact of testosterone on his life:

One of the most interesting things about the effects of testosterone and trans men is that we have something else to compare it to. Non-trans men do not. And non-trans women do not, which is why I wrote the post “It’s the Testosterone: What Straight Women Should Know.”

When I started testosterone a dozen years ago, I expected my sex drive to increase. The “horror” stories are a part of trans man lore, passed down from generation to generation as we all gear up for male adolescence, no matter how old we are, and take out a line of credit at the adult toy store.

And it did increase, within about four days of my first shot, and I basically squirmed a lot for two years before I got used to it. But I was planning for that. Here are the things that took me by surprise:

> It became very focused on one thing – the goal, the prize, the end. That doesn’t mean that I was not able to “make love.” What it does mean is that there was a madness to my method, because it was goal-oriented. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. There was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There was an unguarded hoop just waiting for a slam dunk – score!

> It became very visual. I saw it, I wanted it – whatever it was. This was a new experience for me, because, in the past, I had not been aroused so much by pictures and body parts (or pictures of body parts) as I had been by words – erotic descriptions, stories, and things said to me.

> It became very visceral – instinctual – with a need to take care of it. It had very little to do with romance or even an attraction that made sense intellectually. You’re hungry, you eat. There was a matter-of-factness about it, especially when I was by myself. Hmm … peanut butter sandwich sounds good. Okay, done. Let’s move on.

And from the linked post:

Whenever I speak at a college class (which I did this week), I inevitably get the question about testosterone and sex drive (because college kids are still young enough to be thinking about sex most of the time).

And I tell them the truth, which is that, at least for me and most guys I know, testosterone sends your sex drive straight through the roof and beyond the stratosphere. NASA should honestly use it for fuel to get those rockets (which are really just larger-than-life phallic symbols) to the moon. It is a very powerful aphrodisiac, and way better than oysters, which tend to be slimy.

Testosterone not only increased my sex drive ten-fold, but changed the nature of it as well. It became less diffuse and more goal-oriented, which is probably how the word “score” entered the sexual lexicon. It also, in certain situations, became less about any other person and more about me.

January 5, 2015

Scott Aaronson on “white male privilege” as experienced at MIT

Filed under: Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Down in the comments on this post, Scott Aaronson gets extremely personal:

… You also say that men in STEM fields — unlike those in the humanities and social sciences — don’t even have the “requisite vocabulary” to discuss sex discrimination, since they haven’t read enough feminist literature. Here I can only speak for myself: I’ve read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate). I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy. And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science.

Alas, as much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my “male privilege” — my privilege! — is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience. This is not, insanely, to suggest a lack of misogyny in the modern world! To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.” Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.

But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged” — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes — is completely alien to your way of seeing things. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I’m going to have to reveal something about my life, and it’s going to be embarrassing.

(sigh) Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years — basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s — feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. And furthermore, that the people who did these things to me would somehow be morally right to do them — even if I couldn’t understand how.

You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual, so that I could simply devote my life to math, like my hero Paul Erdös did. Anything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males — especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact — are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears — my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal — I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: “I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics.”

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused to prescribe them, but he also couldn’t suggest any alternative: my case genuinely stumped him. As well it might — for in some sense, there was nothing “wrong” with me. In a different social context — for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl — I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine. (And after a decade of being coy about it, I suppose I’ve finally revealed the meaning of this blog’s title.) This is not, in any way, shape, or form, to suggest that I yearn for an era when women could be purchased as property. There were many times and places where marriages did not occur without both parties’ consent, but there was also a ritualized system of courtship that took much of the terror and mystery out of the process. Even that is not exactly what I “yearn” for; I merely say it’s what I felt “optimized” for.

All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings — even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery” — actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement! Contrary to what countless people have said, this is not intended to blame women for their choices — or even, really, to blame the Neanderthals. Rather, it’s intended to blame a culture that told male nerds since childhood that they’d be horrible people if they asked — even more horrible than if they didn’t ask! — thereby ceding the field to the Neanderthals by default.

So what happened to break me out of this death-spiral? Did I have an epiphany, where I realized that despite all appearances, it was I, the terrified nerd, who was wallowing in unearned male privilege, while those Neaderthal ass-grabbers were actually, on some deeper level, the compassionate feminists — and therefore, that both of us deserved everything we got?

No, there was no such revelation. All that happened was that I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence (at least now I had something worth living for), and the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin — a prospect that was previously unthinkable to me. This, to my mind, “defiance” of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married.

Now, the whole time I was struggling with this, I was also fighting a second battle: to maintain the liberal, enlightened, feminist ideals that I had held since childhood, against a powerful current pulling me away from them. I reminded myself, every day, that no, there’s no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds. There are only individual women and men trying to play the cards they’re dealt, and the confluence of their interests sometimes leads to crappy outcomes. No woman “owes” male nerds anything; no woman deserves blame if she prefers the Neanderthals; everyone’s free choice demands respect.

That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.

But I hope you now understand why I might feel “only” 97% on board with the program of feminism. I hope you understand why, despite my ironclad commitment to women’s reproductive choice and affirmative action and women’s rights in the developing world and getting girls excited about science, and despite my horror at rape and sexual assault and my compassion for the victims of those heinous crimes, I might react icily to the claim — for which I’ve seen not a shred of statistical evidence — that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds, which is worse than the culture of male doctors or male filmmakers or the males of any other profession. I believe you guys call this sort of thing “blaming the victim.” From my perspective, it serves only to shift blame from the Neanderthals and ass-grabbers onto some of society’s least privileged males, the ones who were themselves victims of bullying and derision, and who acquired enough toxic shame that way for appealing to their shame to be an effective way to manipulate their behavior. As I see it, whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don’t deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House. This is obvious hyperbole.

H/T to Scott Alexander, who has much to say about both Aaronson’s painful confession and the rather over-the-top responses to it from the feminist community.

Morality in public, perversity in private?

Filed under: Media,Politics,Religion,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Nita Farahany looks at an interesting study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study gives away the game in the title — Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?

“In America, religiosity and conservatism are generally associated with opposition to non-traditional sexual behavior, but prominent political scandals and recent research suggest a paradoxical private attraction to sexual content on the political and religious right. We examined associations between state level religiosity/conservatism and anonymized interest in searching for sexual content online using Google Trends (which calculates within-state search volumes for search terms). Across two separate years, and controlling for demographic variables, we observed moderate-to-large positive associations between: (1) greater proportions of state-level religiosity and general web searching for sexual content and (2) greater proportions of state level conservatism and image-specific searching for sex. These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private Internet activity. Alternative explanations (e.g., that opposition to non-traditional sex in right-leaning states leads liberals to rely on private internet sexual activity) are discussed, as are limitations to inference posed by aggregate data more generally.”

The researchers found that the American states with the greatest proportion of individuals who self-identify as very religious, or consider religion to be an important part of their lives, engage in more active searches for sexual content online compared to states with fewer religious and conservative individuals. There was a direct correlation between the proportion of conservatives in a state and image-specific Internet sex searches documented in that state.

Their conclusion? More restrictive social norms drive behaviors underground. There are quite a few limitations of the study and alternative hypotheses that may drive the results, which the researchers acknowledge. But it’s still quite an interesting study.

December 28, 2014

P.J. O’Rourke is forced to watch an episode of Girls

Filed under: Humour,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t bowled over … at least not in a good way:

Ms. Dunham is 28. I was under the impression that “girls” is a demeaning term for adult women. The title must have something to do with this hipster “Irony” thing, which I confess I don’t understand. The root of the word irony is in the Greek eironeia, “liar.”

I had my 14-year-old daughter, Poppet, instruct me in how to watch an episode of Girls on my computer. (Turns out “content” is not completely “free.”)

Two seconds into the opening credits I was trying to get my daughter out of the room by any means possible. “Poppet! Look in the yard! The puppy’s on fire! Quick! Quick! Run outside and roll him in the snow!”

It turns out Girls is a serialized horror movie — more gruesome, frightening, grim, dark, and disturbing than anything that’s ever occurred to Stephen King.

I have two daughters, Poppet and her 17-year-old sister Muffin. Girls is about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters. These young people, portrayed as being representative of typical young people, reside in a dumpy, grubby, woeful part of New York called Brooklyn, where Ms. Dunham should put her clothes back on.

I lived in New York for fifteen years. No one had been to Brooklyn since the Dodgers left in 1957.

The young people in Girls are miserable, peevish, depressed, hate their bodies, themselves, their life, and each other. They occupy apartments with the size and charm of the janitor’s closet, shared by The Abominable Roommate. They dress in clothing from the flophouse lost-and-found and are groomed with a hacksaw and gravel rake. They are tattooed all over with things that don’t even look like things the way a anchor or a mermaid or a heart inscribed “Mom” does, and they’re only a few years older than my daughters.

The characters in Girls take drugs. They “hook up” in a manner that makes the casual sex of the 1960s seem like an arranged marriage in Oman. And they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit and they drink and they vomit.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. I had to have a lot to drink before I could get to sleep after watching this show about young people who are only a few years older than my daughters.

[…]

Consternation has also been caused because Ms. Dunham admits to, as a child, having done with her younger sister what used to be obliquely called “playing doctor,” leading her to be condemned for trivializing sexual assault.

And I’m supposed to have an opinion about all this.

My opinion is that Lena Dunham created and stars in a television series on HBO called Girls, about young people who are only a couple of years older than my daughters.

I’m looking into Women-only military schools run by strict nuns for Poppet and Muffin. I think there’s one in the Philippines.

December 13, 2014

Science shows the amazing power of … the high heel

Filed under: Media,Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Many of you think that high-heeled shoes for women are sexist and explotiative. On first blush, I mostly agree with you … but we may all be wrong:

The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.

Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.

Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.

The study found if a woman drops a glove on the street while wearing heels, she’s almost 50 percent more likely to have a man fetch it for her than if she’s wearing flats.

Another finding: A woman wearing heels is twice as likely to persuade men to stop and answer survey questions on the street. And a high-heeled woman in a bar waits half the time to get picked up by a man, compared to when her heel is nearer to the ground.

“Women’s shoe heel size exerts a powerful effect on men’s behavior,” says the study’s author, Nicolas Gueguen, a behavioral science researcher. “Simply put, they make women more beautiful.”

December 11, 2014

Megan McArdle on whether we should “automatically” believe rape accusations

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Megan McArdle isn’t impressed by the statement from Zerlina Maxwell in the Washington Post: “We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.”.

Where to begin with this kind of statement?

For one thing, even an outlandish accusation would not exactly be cost-free; it could be devastating. There would be police interviews, professional questions. As Maxwell blithely notes in the piece, the accused might be suspended from his job. Does he have enough savings to live on until the questions are cleared? Many people don’t. What about the Google results that might live on years after he was cleared? Sure, he can explain them to a prospective girlfriend, employer, or sales prospect. But what if they throw his communication into the circular file before he gets a chance to explain? What about the many folks who will think (encouraged by folks like Maxwell) that the accusation would never have been made if he hadn’t done something to deserve it?

But while the effect on the accused is one major problem with uncritically accepting any accusation of rape, it is not the only problem. There’s another big problem — possibly, an even bigger one: what this does to the credibility of people who are trying to fight rape. And I include not only journalists, but the whole community of activists who have adopted a set of norms perhaps best summed up by the feminist meme “I believe.”

[…]

So let’s look at how these sorts of rules are actually being applied to rape victims on campus. Emily Yoffe’s new article on how these cases are being handled is an absolute must-read to understand this landscape. Seriously, go read it right now and come back. I’ll still be here.

What do you see in this article? People are frustrated by rape on campus and want it to stop. Their frustration is righteous, their goal laudable. In the name of this goal, however, they are trying to drive the rate of false negatives down to zero, and causing a lot of real problems for real people who are going through real anguish that goes far beyond weeping in the doctor’s office. The main character is a boy who had sex with a friend. According to his testimony and that of his roommate (who was there, three feet above them in a bunkbed), the sex was entirely consensual, if extremely ill-advised. According to Yoffe, after the girl’s mother found her diary, which “contained descriptions of romantic and sexual experiences, drug use, and drinking,” the mother called the campus and announced that she would be making a complaint against the boy her daughter had sex with. Two years later, after a “judicial” process that offered him little chance to tell his side, much less confront his accuser, he is unable to return to school, or to go anywhere else of similar stature because of the disciplinary action for sexual assault that taints his record.

As I’ve written before, the very nature of rape makes these problems particularly difficult. On campus, especially, sexual assaults usually offer no physical evidence except that of an act that goes on hundreds of times every day, almost always consensually, at those campuses. It involves only two witnesses, both of whom were often intoxicated.

November 28, 2014

QotD: Sex on the western front, 1914-1918

Filed under: Britain,Europe,History,Military,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

… while the soldiers on other fronts had to make do with the usual assortment of camp followers, local girls and any brothels which survived the operations that brought the lines to that spot, both sides on the Western Front were able to avail themselves of the services of established brothels in the towns near the front on each respective side. Well, the officers could, at least; proper brothels which had existed before the war generally displayed blue lamps, signifying that they were forbidden to enlisted men by military regulations. Lower ranks had to content themselves with makeshift red-lamp facilities, sometimes the new French Bordels Mobiles de Campagne, but more often just commandeered pubs or other buildings whose facilities might consist of little more than, as one soldier reported, “a stretcher, with a very thin sheet and blanket.”

In 1914, Western civilization had not yet sunk into the modern madness of pretending that healthy young men can simply “just say no” to sex without ill effect (or that they should); with rare exception, absolutely nobody in military leadership imagined that they could really stop men from visiting brothels by ordering them not to. Of course, the British tried to anyway; unlike the Germans (who issued the troops both condoms and disinfectant) and the French (who issued entire brothels), British military officials issued only the epigrammatic advice from Lord Kitchener while quietly allowing the troops to visit French brothels under the excuse that they didn’t want to offend their allies and hosts. Since blue lamp facilities were established houses staffed by experienced professionals with a supply of condoms, they had no problem with sexually transmitted disease. The same, however, could not be said for the red lamps, and since the troops were issued neither prophylactics nor proper information, STIs ran rampant. Over 400,000 cases were recorded among British or Commonwealth troops during the course of the war, 150,000 of them on the Western Front alone; altogether roughly 5% of the men were infected at least once, three and a half times the infection rate among French troops and fully seven times the German rate.

By 1915 nurse Ettie Rout persuaded the New Zealand authorities to begin issuing prophylactic kits to their troops, and Canada soon followed suit; Britain’s response was to garnish the pay of soldiers who contracted STIs and treat them in separate, second-rate hospital facilities in order to punish and shame them. Considering that an English Tommy’s pay was a scant one-fifth that of his counterparts from Canada and Australia (sixpence a day vs. two and a half shillings), it’s hardly surprising that infected troops preferred to hide their infections and/or treat them with ineffective patent medicines or folk remedies.

Maggie McNeill, “Red Lamp”, The Honest Courtesan, 2014-11-11.

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