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Wednesday, 23 August 2006
Back and forth
Topic: Ranting

Oh, now this is fun.  Last night I noticed that BoingBoing had posted the following:

Don't Marry Career Men: Forbes hankers for the '50s
Hey, this would be a funny way to start an article in Forbes, wouldn't it?

Girls: A word of advice. Marry handsome men or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Bald or hairy. Just, whatever you do, don't marry a man with a career.

Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional men are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that men -- even those with a "feminist" outlook -- are happier when their wife is the primary breadwinner.

Right. Now, reverse each gender reference above, and you're reading a real Forbes article: Don't Marry Career Women. 2006, meet 1956. Pathetic.

Check out the the full post for the near-immediate pile-on by readers that followed.  Gawker got in the game, too.  And then suddenly, poof goes the article in question, disappearing from the Forbes.com site - an entirely fruitless exercise in the age of screengrabs and Google cache, as BoingBoing pointed out.  It reappeared a few hours later reframed as half of a point/counterpoint exchange.  Notably missing from the republished article was the slideshow that accompanied the original article, which highlighted some of the more ridiculous and offensive 'points' of the article with incredibly stupid pictures.  The text of the slideshow can be found here; the pathetic pictures live on in Gawker's CliffNotes to the article.  Apparently, the flap got another article by author Michael Noer pulled from Forbes's website as well: a sterling little gem on the economics of prostitution that started with the words 'Wife or whore?'.

The speed with which all of this happened amuses me.  In the print-only days, this exchange would have taken probably a week, right?  Maybe two, if next week's magazine was being printed when the response to the article hit.  Of course, if Forbes was still limited to a print edition, it's just possible that someone on the editorial board might have put more than 5 seconds worth of thought into wasting print and paper on a piece of crap guaranteed to annoy a fair-sized chunk of the magazine's readership.  Unfortunately, the speed of the response means that the counterpoint respondent, Elizabeth Corcoran, can only refute Noer's pseudoscientific claims with personal anecdotes.  It likely would have been more effective to also incorporate studies demonstrating different effects to those that Noer draws on, or scholarly critiques of those studies, since Noer couldn't be bothered to do that bit of homework himself (don't read past the first post on that link, or the rest of the Forbes.com forum on the article if you'd prefer to avoid the self-propelled excrement that crawls out from under very slimy rocks in response to debates like this, because it is stinking up the joint).  Corcoran's response, especially considering the speed at which it must have been produced, is commendable for it's politely assertive tone and sensible recommendations for those who have the misplaced energy to be concerned about this manufactured issue.  Noer and the jackasses who gave his article the go-ahead really don't deserve to have someone like her around to help pull their sorry behinds out of the fire.  


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2:32 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006 2:38 PM BST
Tuesday, 28 February 2006
Beat me to it
Topic: Ranting
That post I mentioned I'd been wanting to write about Pink's new music video? Soft Graffiti got there first, and has done a really good job identifying both the positive and the negative aspects of the messages in the video.

Unfortunately, I can't find a live link to the video. Plasticbag.org pointed me to it a few weeks ago, but that link is no longer working. You can read the lyrics here, if you're interested. Or you might try YouTube for the video - I can't at the moment because the site is not available.

The song is a rant about 'stupid' girls: materialistic, body and image obsessed women. The video fairly pointedly sends up Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson, in particular. On the one hand, it's entertaining to see vapid, shallow, obnoxious behavior mocked. And I'm always happy to see a critique of image obsession in popular media, where it's possible it might reach a large enough audience to do some sort of good.

The video isn't any sort of radical critique, though - the alternative to being a 'stupid' girl that the video presents is to play football with the boys. The message seems to be that either you can play with the boys, or be played by them - male approval figures highly in what's valued about women either way, and there isn't a strong message that women are capable of being supportive of each other. That, to my mind, is a major omission.

It's something of a missed opportunity, as well. The media is able to play this as a catfight between Pink and the 'stupid girls', going straight for the salacious angle and ignoring the commentary on the scarcity (in the mainstream) of alternative models of femininity for girls and young women. I think it would have been better (although for Pink, as a participant in and product of the mainstream media, maybe not possible) to have attacked the media for pushing thinness, consumerism, and a pre-packaged blatant 'sexiness' as feminine ideals, rather than focusing on the 'girls' in question.

(Via the 9th Carnival of Feminists at Mind the Gap!)

1:26 PM GMT | Post Comment | Permalink
Monday, 2 January 2006
Say cheese
Topic: Ranting
Christmas is over, and I'm over Christmas, but I still had to laugh at Jellyfish's takedown of Carols by Candlelight, a Melbourne Christmas tradition that, between the Christmas Eve broadcast and Christmas day rebroadcast, I saw in its entirety. People, it was every bit as bad as Jellyfish claims, and I didn't spend all day waiting in line alone to see the thing. I was hoping for cheesy holiday goodness, but it was mostly bad evening gowns, worse "jokes", and mercilessly butchered carols. Jellyfish didn't mention, amidst all the other things that were bizarre about the evening, the aspect that I found the most unusual the Melbourne Gospel Choir, which was composed of young, telegenic people who could sing, but couldn't seem to sway in unison. It was oddly distracting. They sounded like a gospel choir, but they didn't look like any gospel choir I'd ever seen before.

Oops. This was not meant to go live this morning - I'd intended to save it as a draft and hit the wrong button. At least all the links work, for once, but I did feel the need to edit the text.

9:52 PM GMT | Post Comment | View Comments (3) | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006 12:02 PM GMT
Monday, 26 September 2005
Thank you, Paul Sheehan, for showing me the error of my ways
Topic: Ranting
I am so totally going to swear off eating so as not to contribute to the magnitude of the problem of "Fat Chick Syndrome" in Australia, a timely and critical issue that you grapple with so eloquently in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

And thank you, Paul Sheehan, for sparing 73 words of your 900 word editorial to address the problem of "fat blokes". Its efforts like this which make it crystal clear that you're not just some pig taking advantage of the current climate of obesity panic to crap on ad nauseum about your image of the ideal woman under the guise of concern for public health and well-being. No, clearly you sympathize with the plight of women, as we're forced by "the unspeakable cruelty of women's magazines" to loathe our bodies. Because clearly, its the fashion industry and women's magazines that are responsible for perpetuating unrealistic physical ideals in our culture. Print advertisements, movies, television - those aspects of our culture that are essentially unavoidable for those of us who don't follow fashion and don't read women's magazines - all of these are merely incidental to the rampaging scourge of Vogue, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan and their ilk.

And thank you, Paul Sheehan, for affirming the "transformative" nature of taking one's appearance seriously. After all, like Susannah, host of What Not To Wear and the paragon of taste and discretion that you hold up as an example to all non-"giraffic" women, I too could say:
"Oh my God! The breasts have engorged to an E cup, the stomach has emerged like a hernia, open and laid out for inspection above every waistband, and the arms, well, they are worryingly vast and soon to take over my entire body. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it's how I feel about the parts I don't like."
At least, I could say that if I was worryingly disengaged from my body and therefore prone to metaphorical self-dismemberment. And I'm sure that your response to me would be the same as your response to Susannah, a rational yet sensitive and not at all patronizing statement to the effect of "well, that's a realistic self-assessment, but at least you're well-packaged". After all, only outrageously fertile girls and young women of 17 to 23 should be running around in "push-up bras, Gosford miniskirts, spray-on jeans, low-cut tops, bare legs, bare arms, bare ankles, G-strings", as you pointed out with an admirable lack of prurience in an earlier article.

Actually, Paul Sheehan, reading these two articles together, I realize that I know what to do to take action against the "affluenza" that's causing Fat Chick Syndrome. It's so obvious to me now, after reading your articles, that I've been contributing to the problem by getting educated and not having babies. After all, since "[n]ature has programmed [me] for pregnancy, genetic diversity and keeping the species going"¹ then I must have been causing myself untold stress by forestalling that urge in order to pursue a career and a postgrad degree, and "[s]tress and weight tend to go together".² Funny, that the stress of postgrad study seems to be causing me to lose weight, rather than gain it, but the exception proves the rule, right? And since you say that "there is a marked link between intelligence and weight"³, it seems obvious that if I were to go on for a PhD, I'd only be risking getting fat. So that's off the "future plans" list now. I can't thank you enough for helping me identify this vicious, vicious circle.

Right, so to break that cycle, I need to find a father for my babies. How about it, Paul Sheehan? Clearly, your dizzying intellect and compassionate soul ought to be passed along to the next generation. That is, as long as you're not ugly. If I'm going to "[b]uild a better package"º in order to help cure affluenza, doing it with an ugly man seems sort of counterproductive.

¹"In praise of female sexuality"
²Affluenza is a big weight on our mind, too"

1:07 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Friday, 9 September 2005
For the folks back home
Topic: Ranting
A few bits from today's Age:

So this is why the night sky has been so gorgeous lately . . . I have three evening classes that finish well after dark, and all this week as I've left uni, I've seen the crescent moon hanging low in the western sky, with a cascade of bright stars around it. It's captivating - I'm lucky I haven't walked into any lampposts while staring at the sky.

I'm really curious about why the writer/editor of this story chose to focus on the one "star" (it's really Venus) that, in conjunction with the moon, purportedly "resemble[s] the star and crescent of Islam", because myself, I never once looked at the sky this week and thought, "that looks Islamic". So I'm not entirely sure what's going on there.

There has been a recent debate around Muslim girls wearing hijab to school. I'm not at all sure how I feel about the hijab. Actually, it's one of those rare issues that I almost feel I'm not entitled to have an opinion on, because I have absolutely no experience with anything comparable. So I found Liz Conor's op-ed piece on the hijab, Western women's dress, and the male gaze very interesting. Conor sounds as conflicted about the hijab as I feel, and there aren't any easy conclusions drawn in her essay.

I would really love to have more time to sit here and think through this essay and my response to it. Particularly my response to Conor's observation that "[she] found it a relief to hit my later 30s and come out from under the scrutinising gaze that many men level at young women in public." That really resonates with me. At the same time that I resent the implication that women bear responsibility for men's sexual response to their dress, I've definitely made a conscious decision to adopt relatively modest dress myself, and part of that decision was driven by my need to feel like I might be able to have some control over how I am perceived and responded to by others.

I remember that one of my most unexpected responses to Egypt when I visited a few years ago was the sense of relief that came from not being bombarded with sexualized images of women in public advertising. (That, of course, was balanced against an elevated level of attention directed toward me, personally, but when you've been a tourist in enough places, you start to get accustomed to that. For example, I didn't feel like I was under any more scrutiny in Cairo than in Istanbul, which I found felt more "Western", but where I was still identifiably not local. A certain level of attention is just to be expected when you're a tourist.) What really struck me was that I hadn't realized until then how much time I spend in public looking at images of women and cringing inside. I'm cringing now -- I've got so much emotion wrapped up in questions of choice, attention and modesty that I don't know that I can write rationally or coherently about them right now, when I'm deeply sleep deprived and totally pressed for time.

So, I think I may just leave this for the time being and maybe come back to it again in the future. Sorry to abandon this post unconcluded, but I'm suddenly very aware of the fact that I really really really need to get some more work done today if I'm going to retain any sort of grip on my life. I probably should leave this post in the "draft" file, but I really wanted to point out Conor's article and say something about while its fresh in my mind. I'm just sorry it didn't work out better. I promise more coherence in my next post.

*takes deep breath, burrows into massive stack of books*

12:47 AM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005 12:49 PM BST
Thursday, 25 August 2005
Droughts and demographics
Topic: Ranting
Apparently, Australia is in the throes of a "man-drought". According to Australian demographer Bernard Salt, the country is short about 20,000 men in their thirties, ostensibly due to migration overseas in pursuit of jobs. New Zealand faces a similar demographic imbalance. I feel like its too bad that the blog author, Has-Been, seems content to settle for jokes about Amazons (in response to the notion that Australian women are going about creating a culture geared toward a single lifestyle) and Australia's history as a penal colony, rather than trying for a deeper discussion of globalization and migration.

Migration is fascinating. Since my classes this semester are generally focused on global-scale issues -- colonialism, globalization, international relations from a feminist perspective -- migration is something of a recurring theme. And it's a theme that I can relate to personally, which makes it that much more interesting. Just this week, my classes have dealt with transnational kinship ties, the various motivating and constraining factors that make women's and men's experiences of migration significantly different, and the aesthetic changes that societies experience due to interactions with migrants. For instance, large scale migration of men may open up opportunities for women, as is implied by Salt when he links the lower number of men in New Zealand to the fact that several national leadership posts are held by women.

Or could it be because he's Australian that Salt thinks that "missing men" has to be the answer to New Zealand's female leadership? Unlike Has-Been states in his follow-up post, I don't think that Australia has "an absence of obvious problems". Mainstream Australian society has similar issues around gender and sexuality equity as those found in American society, which I would argue could contribute to the perception that men would have to be "missing" in order for women to be found in a number of key leadership roles in NZ. The fact that the Australian left feels every bit as alienated from national politics and society as the American left does also seems to be a problem to me. (Explanatory note on the previous link for Americans: "Liberal"= the Liberal Party, which ideologically is more or less equivalent to the Republican Party. This situation has naturally led to much confusion when I forget myself and start talking about small-"l" liberal American politics with Aussies.)

Since I spend my days in the bastion of left-wing sentiment that is a typical postgraduate humanities program, my perceptions may be more than a bit skewed, but it seems to me that plenty of Australians see the situation of Aboriginal peoples, the detention camps for illegal immigrants, and prejudice toward non-white Australians and immigrants as obvious problems. These might not be majority perspectives, but I don't think that they're held by so small a minority as to be dismissed out of hand.

So I'm more than a little bit skeptical of Has-Been's proposal that the Democrats look into the "baby bonus" that the Liberal Party has implemented, although Has-Been does at least couch it in terms of supporting families, rather than posing breeding as a "patriotic duty" as he quotes Peter Costello, a leader of the Liberal Party, as having said. That sort of attitude veers perilously close to raving racism, and given the anxiety in the US about non-white immigration into a society that has been predominantly white, I think that a "baby bonus" could easily be seen (or spun) as a eugenicist policy. The Democratic Party has enough problems without involving itself in that sort of morass.

(Wow. I was going to try to write some sort of conclusion to tie everything together, but that just doesn't seem like its going to be possible without dragging this on for pages. So maybe its best to stop now, before I get any more tangential. Or spin off into a rant about immigration anxiety. Or get any hungrier, because that will just lead to crankiness. Little did the lovely DamselFish know what she was letting everyone in for when she sent me those links!)

Just can't let it go: This story is still bugging me. I've got some stuff on corporations and psychopathic behavior that I'd like to get to, but I keep turning these articles, and my response to them, over and over in my head. I guess I'm feeling like I've barely scratched the surface of the issues involved here: globalization, demographic shifts, migration -- all major issues that I barely understand, but find deeply intriguing. And I suppose that I'm also anxious that I'm painting very shallow picture of certain issues in Australian society. I'm no expert, to be sure, and it's maybe a little too easy to look at a situation here and say, "oh, that's like this in the States", rather than going to the effort of understanding it in its own context. Not to say that drawing those parallels is necessarily invalid, but it does run the risk of obscuring a more complete and locally relevant picture. I have a feeling I'll be coming back later to many of the topics that I've touched on here, because they deserve far more attention than I'm able to give them right now. So I shouldn't harsh on Has-Been too much for skimming over the surface of the issues when I haven't delved into them myself. There's just so much to talk about and so little time right now in which to do it.

2:33 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005 1:54 PM BST
Smells like pseudoscience
Topic: Ranting
EE sent me this story today:
Why Men Don't Listen to Women

He really isn't listening to you!
When men and women speak, the human brain processes the sounds of those voices differently, Britain's Mirror and Agence France Presse report of a new study from the U.K.'s University of Sheffield. While most of us actually hear female voices more clearly, men's brains hear women's voices first as music. But it's not music. It's someone giving them a honey-do list. So the brain goes into overdrive trying to analyze what is being said.

Bottom line: Men have to work harder deciphering what women are saying because they use the auditory part of the brain that processes music, not human voices. Men's brains are not designed to listen to women's voices. It's not the pitch of the woman's voice, but rather the vibration and number of sound waves that cause the problem, notes Discovery News.

But guys have no trouble at all hearing each other because men use a much simpler brain mechanism at the back of the brain to decipher another man's voice and recognize it as speech.

"The female voice is actually more complex than the male voice, due to differences in the size and shape of the vocal cords and larynx between men and women, and also due to women having greater natural 'melody' in their voices. This causes a more complex range of sound frequencies than in a male voice," lead researcher Michael Hunter told The Mirror. "When men hear a male voice they process it in the 'mind's eye.' This is the part of the brain where people compare their experiences to themselves, so the man is comparing his own voice to the new voice."

Here's a really bizarre side effect: These findings help explain why people who suffer hallucinations usually hear male voices. It's just too hard for the brain to create a false feminine voice as accurately as it can create a false masculine voice.

The research findings were published in the journal NeuroImage.

I couldn't believe this story wasn't a hoax. Listening to a female voice is too much work for the male brain because the female voice is so melodious, but other male voices are less complex and therefore simpler to decipher? Can I possibly be reading that correctly? Especially the bit about "Men's brains are not designed to listen to women's voices"?!? My ass, they're not.*

So I went digging around on the University of Sheffield's website, and found their press release, on the study. There goes the hoax theory, unless it's a really elaborate hoax.

Not having read the NeuroImage article in which the study results were detailed, and not really having the appropriate background, I don't really have grounds to question the design of the study itself, but I would be interested to know how legitimate it really is to make sweeping generalizations about men's brains based on a study conducted on 12 subjects. Is this a statistically significant sample for purposes of experiments on the brain? I have no idea.

I'm also curious about the composition of the group of subjects -- race, class, age, sexual identity -- how diverse was this group? And how diverse were the range of voices they were listening to in the course of the study? To what extent might socialization play a role in how people process voices?

I think that socialization was quite likely overlooked in the assertion in the press release that women's voices are more complex than men's due to the "natural" melody in women's voices. I suspect that the female voice's "natural" melody owes something to socialization, in that its more acceptable for women to utilize their higher register than it is for men to do so. Therefore, women have access to a wider range of expressive vocal tones than men. So the extent of the "naturalness" of the complexity of the female voice is up for debate, in my opinion.

Interestingly, nothing in the press release from the university implies that its difficult for men to listen to women because female voices are more complex. In fact, the press release implies that processing women's voices in the auditory center of the brain may actually render them clearer to men:
"This research could also explain why female voices are considered to be clearer then male voices. This could be linked to the fact that female voices are interpreted in the auditory part of the brain, and are therefore more easily decoded."
Where did the distortion creep in? That's what I find more interesting than the study itself. I would love to have the time and resources to trace the development of this story since 12 July, which is when the press release was posted. In just over a month, the study has evolved from an examination of the way that the male brain processes male and female voices differently into a apologia for husbands who treat their wives' conversations as part of the background noise. If I was doing a classic gender studies degree, I'd be tempted to write my thesis on the process by which that distortion happened, because I bet it would be fascinating.

*Which was essentially the reaction that Liz Ciancone had, except she used more words, and less vulgar ones, because she writes for a proper publication.

7:55 AM BST | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 3:52 AM BST
Sunday, 21 August 2005
Censorship or stupidity?
Topic: Ranting
An ABC affiliate in Utah is refusing to air an anti-war ad featuring Cindy Sheehan, which was created by Gold Star Families for Peace to air ahead of Bush's appearance at the VFW convention in Salt Lake City this week (full AP story on Yahoo News here). The station said that the ad was an "inappropriate commercial advertisement for Salt Lake City."

I don't understand the process by which a media outlet arrives at the decision that it's appropriate to censor political expression. Apparently, the station is relying on a very narrow definition of what an "issue" advertisement is -- if the ad does not pertain to a ballot measure, it can be rejected as commercial advertising. Maybe that's a legitimate argument -- I don't know enough about the distinctions between issue ads and commercial ads to comment. But considering that the local CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates are running the ads, why would a TV station want to both reject ad revenue and position itself as the "censorship station"? It just doesn't make sense.

I'm so confused that I don't even know where to start with this. Should I launch into a diatribe against the evils of the mainstream, profit-driven media? Or a rant about the monopolization of broadcast media by conglomerates like Clear Channel (the station's owner, which the station manager says did not influence the decision)? Should I take the opportunity to elaborate on my theory that the cancellation of Sports Night demonstrated that ABC is a tool of Satan and that it therefore follows that everything associated with it is evil?

I think what I find most distasteful about the situation is the cowardly and paternalistic attitude reflected in the station's statements that the ad "could very well be offensive to our community in Utah, which has contributed more than its fair share of fighting soldiers and suffered significant loss of life in this Iraq war"; and that "[t]he viewpoints reflected in the spot are incompatible with our marketplace and will not be well received by our viewers." Shouldn't it be up to the community to view the ad and decide whether or not they find it offensive? Besides, what is there to be afraid of when the other affiliates of major networks have decided to air the ad? The whole situation smacks of some station executive wanting to silence a message he or she disagrees with.

I don't agree with Sheehan's position, personally. I don't think that an immediate withdrawal of the military from Iraq is in the best interests of either the US or Iraq. I think that the US needs to come up with a responsible plan for straightening out the mess in Iraq that includes appropriate plans for withdrawal of troops. No, I don't know what that would involve, exactly, but an immediate withdrawal ain't it. But I'm not going to oppose Sheehan by participating in a smear campaign against her or otherwise attempting to silence her. I support her right to disseminate her message, and I trust that if its a bad idea, people will recognize that and not act on it. Maybe it's totally naive of me, but I don't see that ideas are so dangerous that character assassination and censorship are required to counteract them.

12:52 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 3:53 AM BST
Tuesday, 16 August 2005
Topic: Ranting
After all that late night fussing over "American Car" and "Your Misfortune", I woke up this morning with "His Truth Is Marching On" stuck in my head.

No, I'm not obsessed, and I can't begin to imagine why you would think such a thing.

Also on the topic of fussing, I've been keeping half an eye on stories related to Cindy Sheehan, because I like it when the right-wing media get their knickers in a twist. The story has recently been getting fairly regular coverage on Uncommon Sense, so keep an eye on that site if you're interested in online reactions to the story. There was also an excellent, outraged post on BARISTA about the machinations of the right-wing anti-Sheehan spin -- follow the links in that story, every one of them is excellent.

Update: Maybe I'm overthinking this, but my immediate reaction on noticing that the story that Sheehan's husband has filed for divorce is front-page news on Yahoo was that this is an attempt to discredit her by playing on the antiquated idea that a husband and wife always present a united front to the world, and by extension, that if a husband withdraws his support, it must mean that the wife is doing something wrong. I don't think that arguing that it's just that she's the celebrity of the moment and is getting the full muck-raking treatment explains it, because I keep coming back to the question of why this is a news-worthy story, and the conclusion that I can't get away from is that it's newsworthy because in somebody's mind, it makes Sheehan look bad. And I'm quite sure that even if that wasn't the thought behind the posting of the story, that's the interpretation it's going to get in certain circles, and just anticipating that response makes me see six shades of red.

7:24 AM BST | Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 4:02 AM BST

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